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Alessandro Volta

Alessandro Volta World History STEM Famous People Visual Arts

This image depicts the last-known portrait of Alessandro Volta, the inventor of the world's first battery (called the Voltaic Pile), when he was about 75 years old. With him, in the painting, are two of his inventions: the Voltaic Pile and the electrophorus (a device which generates static electricity).

Volta (1745-1827), a Professor at the University of Padua, became interested in electricity around 1786, after he saw the work of Luigi Galvani. The two Italians engaged in a significant debate about what caused a dissected frog's leg to move: Was the electrical charge internal (produced by something inside the frog) or external (produced by something outside the frog)?  Galvani believed it was "animal electricity."  Volta believed it was "metallic electricity."

Volta believed that the frog's leg moved because of external, not internal, forces. He was the first person in the world to discover that an electrical current could flow when two different metals, separated by moist material, came into contact. In 1800, he constructed his Voltaic Pile based on this theory.

Alternating discs of copper and zinc with cardboard, moistened with a salt solution, Volta was able to create a continuous flow of electricity. With this breakthrough, other experimentalists were able to test other theories regarding the use of electricity.

Napoleon was so impressed with Volta, and his Voltaic Pile, that he awarded the Italian Professor a Legion of Honor medal and made him a Count.

We honor Volta even now since the word "voltage" - meaning the unit of electrical potential - is named for him.

Click on the image for a better view.


Media Credits

Image described above, by an unknown artist, is online courtesy Alessandro Volta, an Italian-language website.

 

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