A Shocking Discovery

On February 18, 1745, Italian physicist Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta was born. He became a professor of experimental physics.

His friend Luigi Galvani found that introducing an electrostatic charge onto the spinal nerve of a dissected frog moved the muscle in the frog’s leg.

Volta tried the experiment, eventually eliminating any frog tissue bits, and found he could create an electrical charge with specially prepared metal rods. Experimenting with metals having different properties, he created the first electrochemical cell made of silver or copper separated from zinc with a layer of brine-soaked cloth. When he switched from rods to flat discs he found the discs created better contact and presented a larger surface area. Volta could stack them up. As each zinc/electrolyte/copper cell is added to a pile, the battery builds its electric force in voltage. Volta stacked them, and then connected them in a series to produce the first wet cell battery. His battery produced continuous electric current. He found that surpassing 20 cells in a pile, however, created a seriously painful shock.

Volta presented his battery in many demonstrations to the men of influence in his world. He received the Copley Medal from Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society. Napoleon, who understood the potential of the battery’s power, made Volta a count and created a science prize to encourage more Next Big Things. Meanwhile, Count Volta published diagrams and descriptions of his battery. His sharing of information led to rapid series of discoveries about the nature of electricity and current flow. In his honour, the derived Standard International Unit for the electric potential or electromotive force that drives current is named a volt.

Thanks to Volta’s clear description, we can substitute common materials that demonstrate the power of even a small Voltaic pile.


B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage


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