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March 31, 2021

CBE Professor Emeritus Charlie Hill passes away

Written By: Staff

Chemical and Biological Engineering Professor Emeritus Charles (Charlie) G. Hill Jr. passed away March 26, 2021.

 Charles Hill
Charles Hill

He was born in Elmira, New York, and was valedictorian of his high school class at Elmira Free Academy. He went on to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning degrees in chemical engineering in in 1959, 1960 and 1964. He also was a Ford Foundation postdoctoral fellow and an assistant professor of chemical engineering at MIT from 1964 to 1965.

Before joining the UW-Madison chemical engineering faculty in 1967, Hill spent two years serving as a first lieutenant and captain at the U.S. Army Nuclear Defense Laboratory in Edgewood, Maryland.

At UW-Madison, he was promoted to associate professor in 1971 and full professor in 1976. Beginning in 1989, he also had an appointment as professor of food science and was a member of the executive committee of the interdisciplinary Environmental Chemistry and Technology Program. He also had close ties with the UW-Madison Center for Dairy Research. In 1995, he was named the John T. and Magdalen L. Sobota Professor of Chemical Engineering. Hill also served as associate department chair on three occasions and was department chair from 1989 to 1992. He officially retired in 2006—after nearly four decades on the faculty—though he remained active long after that.

Hill was internationally recognized for his research on enzyme technology, kinetics and catalysis, membrane separations. Throughout his career, he mentored 38 PhD students and was author of more than 325 refereed publications and presentations at professional society meetings. In addition to his academic work, he was a consultant to government agencies and private corporations.

Beyond his impact in research, Hill’s skills and dedication in the classroom were legendary, says Regina Murphy, the R. Byron Bird Department Chair and Kreuz-Bascom Professor in chemical and biological engineering.

His classical lecturing style was paired with Socratic inquiry, engaging the class in the developing material through frequent use of questions that matched individual students’ interests or abilities.

He was an enthusiastic instructor and was most proud of his dozens of teaching awards—among them, 13 Polygon (engineering student council) Outstanding Instructor Awards based on student vote. In 1977, he authored the widely used undergraduate text, An Introduction to Chemical Engineering Kinetics and Reactor Design, which he updated in 2014 with colleague Thatcher Root.

Some of Hill’s fondest professional memories were of his time spent teaching the operations and process summer lab course, a unique opportunity for students to simulate “real-world” conditions through open-ended experiments. He was a great advocate of the broadening experiences gained in the overseas lab sessions in Madison, London, Vienna, and Oviedo (Spain).

Hill also was an avid sports enthusiast, participating in pickup basketball games with graduate students and other faculty well into his late 60s. He coached his daughters’ teams in the Madison School Community Recreational leagues from tee-ball through to fast-pitch softball, instilling the values of being a team player, putting forth maximum effort, and demonstrating good sportsmanship. True to his East Coast roots, he continued to cheer for the Boston Celtics and the Red Sox, as well as the Packers and Badgers athletic teams.

For many years, he was an active member of Madison’s welcoming Contra Dance community. In retirement, he enjoyed traveling not only across the country, but to the Virgin Islands and around the world to dance events.

Hill married Katharine M. Koon in 1964. They shared many happy years together before they divorced in 2001. The two are very proud of their three daughters and their accomplishments: Elizabeth “Betsi” Hill (Rachid Tbahi) of Briarcliff Manor, New York; Deborah “Deb” Medsker (David) of Dublin, Ohio; and Cynthia Sagues of Austin, Texas. Hill’s survivors also include six grandchildren, Yasmin Hill, Zakaria Tbahi, Garrett and Amy Medsker, and Thomas and Sara Sagues.

If you wish to make a gift in Hill’s memory, go to and indicate the Charles Graham and Ethel Pfleegor Hill Family Scholarship Fund. This fund supports the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering’s collaborative international undergraduate courses in Europe, enabling students to participate who could not otherwise afford the opportunity.

Hill’s family will schedule a memorial service at a later date, when public health conditions are more conducive to in-person gatherings. You can view his obituary here.