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Alessandro Volta
John B. Watson
Wilhelm Wundt

 

 

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Alessandro Volta

With almost every aspect of modern devices made possible by technology based on his invention in 1800, it is surprising that Alessandro Volta is not a recognizably common name.


Alessandro Volta
 

Who would have believed that those small batteries which power our cellphones, laptops and tablet devices are the great, great grandchild of an invention from the Georgian Era? It was Volta's creation of a Voltaic Pile, which was a forerunner for the modern battery which managed to revolutionize electronics.

Alessandro Volta was born in Como, Italy in 1745 and was educated in the local public schools. He spent the bulk of his career as a scientist, working as a professor of physics at the Royal School in Como and later at the University of Pavia, while continuing to study the properties of electricity.

In 1775, he invented a device which could produce a static charge called the electrophorus, before discovering methane in 1777, through his studies of the chemistry of certain gases. Both these scientific breakthroughs were merely paving the way for his revolutionary invention of the Voltaic Pile in 1800. The voltaic pile was in essence the world's very first battery as it could provide a continual electric current to a circuit.

Volta built his invention based on a discovery made by Luigi Galvani in the 1780's. Galvani discovered that a circuit of two metals connected to a frog's leg could cause the leg to respond. Volta took this information to the next level of discovery by stacking metal discs in alternating pairs of copper or silver and zinc with cloth soaked in a brine solution between them. When he connected a wire to the top and bottom contacts, an electrical current flowed through it.

This invention paved the way for a cascade of new discoveries beginning with electrolysis, which was used to separate water into the elements of hydrogen and oxygen, and then allowed scientists to isolate the chemical elements of sodium and potassium in 1807, calcium, boron, barium, strontium and magnesium in 1808.

Volta's invention was so groundbreaking that Napoleon recognized his contribution to science with the title of Count in 1810 and the entirety of the electrical industry of the 19th century was supplied power by batteries closely related to Volta's original designs until the invention of the dynamo in the 1870's.

Alessandro Volta retired from academics, inventing and teaching in 1819 and spent his last years at his estate in Camnago, which was renamed Camnago Volta in honor of his achievements. He died there in 1827. His legacy is still recognized today as a museum built to be dedicated to his works still exhibits some of his original experiment equipment and a foundation promoting scientific discoveries and activities was also named in his honor.

Even those of us who have never heard his name make reference to him every day, as the term volt was named in his honor in 1881. We still refer to the measurement of electromotive force using the term volts as you will see on any electrical appliance you may have in your home today.

 

Rumor Has It

Rumor has it that besides the accurate biography presented above, Alessandro Volta used to drive a Chevy Volt to market in order to buy frogs legs. Once at the market, he would whip out his invention and make the frogs "dance" for the crowd.

Written by Kevin Lepton


 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 


 

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