Discovering Electricity - WHAT MAKES a FROG'S LEG TWITCH?

WHAT MAKES a FROG'S LEG TWITCH? (Illustration) Education Famous Historical Events Famous People Legends and Legendary People Medicine World History STEM

This image depicts an 1891 painting by Giuseppe Bertini (1825-1898) of Alessandro Volta demonstrating his battery (called the “Voltaic Pile”) to Napoleon in 1801.  The work is currently maintained at the Volta Temple in Como, Italy. 


Galvani began a series of new experiments to prove that whatever made a frog’s leg twitch came from electricity produced inside the frog’s body.  Hanging his frogs on an electrical wire, Galvani saw something which he never expected to see.  

If he connected a copper wire to the wire from which the frog was hanging, and then touched the other end of the copper wire to the frog’s nerve, it seemed that he could make the frog’s leg twitch without any electricity.  How could that happen?

Galvani continued to believe that there must be something inside the frog, even if the frog was dead, which produced some kind of electricity.  And ... reasoned Galvani ... the metal wires must be releasing that electricity.  

As he continued his experiments, Galvani tried to isolate this perceived “animal electricity” using combinations of frog and metal, Leyden Jars and electrical machines.  His work underscored Galvani’s belief that the electricity was originating within the frog.  The frog’s muscles, in other words, were effectively Leyden Jars, storing electrical fluid and then releasing that electrical fluid in a burst.  

On October 30, 1786, Galvani published his book of findings.  The English translation, of that work, is entitled Of Animal Electricity.  He sent a copy of his book to Alessandro Volta, who still rejected the entire idea of animal electricity (continuing to believe that the electricity had to come from somewhere else).  

But ... if the frog’s electricity did come from someplace else, as Volta believed, where would that someplace else be?  Volta began his own search for the source of electricity at the University of Pavia, in the 1790s.  His search focused on the metals which Galvani had used to make the frogs’ legs twitch.

One thing Volta examined might seem odd to us: how combinations of metals tasted to a human being.  But it wasn’t really the tasting of the metals which mattered in Volta’s experiments.  It was what happened thereafter.

If he positioned two different-metal coins on the tip of his tongue, and then placed a silver spoon on top of both, Volta experienced a kind of tingling sensation.  It was just like the tingling sensation one gets from a Leyden Jar.

Volta believed that he could actually taste electricity ... and ... that it must be coming from the different metals which made-up the coins and the spoon.  

His theory seemed to fly in the face of Galvani’s theory.  Volta believed that frog legs twitched not because of the animal’s own electricity but because they were reacting to electricity produced by the metals.  He’d found, in other words, what he’d set-out to find: an electricity-producing outside source which made frog legs twitch.

One problem with Volta’s theory, however, was the intensity of the electricity which he produced.  It was extremely weak.  Was it possible to make it stronger?  If so, how?

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: May 18, 2014

Updated Last Revision: Jun 02, 2016

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"WHAT MAKES a FROG'S LEG TWITCH?" AwesomeStories.com. May 18, 2014. Feb 21, 2020.
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