Alessandro Volta

Alessandro Volta was an Italian physicist who was a great pioneer in the field of electricity. The electric unit known as “volts” was named in honor of him.

Volta was born in Como, Italy on February 18, 1745. As a kid, he didn’t show any signs of genius. He didn’t begin talking until the age of 4 (most kids start talking around 2). His parents thought surely he must be stupid. His father died when he was 7 and it was about that time that he began passing the other kids in their schoolwork studies.

Volta began experimenting with electricity in 1774 while he was a physics teacher. After a few years, he switched gears and began working with chemistry projects. Volta was the first person to discover and isolate the compound methane. Putting the two sciences together, he created the voltaic pile, a very early battery.

The Voltaic Pile consisted of discs of copper and zinc separated by discs of paper or cardboard (soaked in salt water). Attached to the top and bottom of this “Pile” was a copper wire. When Volta closed the circuit, electricity flowed through the pile. What transpired after his groundbreaking invention is quite ironic.

Volta got into quite a tussle with a guy named Luigi Galvani (the Galvanic Cell is named after him). Galvani was dissecting a frog when he noticed the leg twitched. Galvani surmised that lightning in the area had somehow been conducted through the instruments he was using. Galvani told Volta about this and Volta’s curiosity was tweaked. Volta began trying to duplicate the effect. After some experimentation, Volta determined that the two metal objects holding the wet frog leg were the cause – the wet muscle tissue was conducting a current between the two metal objects. He argued this with Galvani and their disagreement actually got to the point where they parted ways and were friends no more. The whole ‘electricity reanimating the dead frog” thing was also the incident that sparked Mary Shelley to write the famous book – Frankenstein.

Napoleon, the short guy that rode the horse during battles, was so impressed with Volta’s work, he made him a Count in 1810 giving him his official name – Count Alessandro Volta.

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