Count Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta (February 18, 1745 – March 5, 1827) was a
Lombard [ physicist known especially for the development of the first electric cell in 1800.
Volta was born in Como, Italy and taught in the public schools there. In 1774 he became a professor of
physics at the Royal School in Como. One year later, Volta perfected the electrophorus, a device that
produces charges of static electricity.
In 1776 to 1777 he put himself into chemistry, studying atmospheric electricity and making up
experiments such as the ignition of gases by an electric spark in a closed vessel. In 1779 he became
professor of physics at the University of Pavia, this was his position for 25 years. By 1800 he had
developed the so-called voltaic pile, an early electric battery, which produced a steady stream of
In honor of his work, Napoleon made him a count in 1810. A museum in Como, the Voltian Temple, has
been built in his honor and exhibits some of the original equipment he used to conduct experiments.
Near Lake Como stands the Villa Olmo, which houses the Voltian Foundation, an organization which
promotes scientific activities. Volta carried out his experimental studies and made his first inventions in
Inventions and discoveries
In 1775, Volta improved and popularized the electrophorus, a device that produces a static electric
charge. His promotion of it was so extensive that he is often credited with its invention, even though a
machine operating in the same principle was described in 1762 by Swedish professor Johan Carl
Wilcke. In 1776-77 he studied the chemistry of gases, discovered methane, and devised experiments
such as the ignition of gases by an electric spark in a closed vessel. Volta also studied what we now
call capacitance, developing separate means to study both electrical potential V and charge Q, and
discovering that for a given object they are proportional. This may be called Volta's Law of Capacitance,
and likely for this work the unit of electrical potential has been named the volt. In 1779 he became
professor of experimental physics at the University of Pavia, a chair he occupied for almost 25 years. In
1794, Volta married the daughter of Count Ludovico Peregrini, Teresa, with whom he raised three sons.
Around 1791 he began to study the "animal electricity" noted by Galvani when two different metals were
connected in series with the frog's leg and to one another. He realized that the frog's leg served as both
a conductor of electricity (we would now call it an electrolyte) and as a detector of electricity. He replaced
the frog's leg by brine-soaked paper, and detected the flow of electricity by other means familiar to him
from his previous studies of electricity. In this way he discovered the electrochemical series, and the law
that the electromotive force (emf) of a galvanic cell, consisting of a pair of metal electrodes separated by
electrolyte, is the difference of their two electrode potentials. That is, if the electrodes have emfs , then
the net emf is . (Thus, two identical electrodes and a common electrolyte give zero net emf.) This may be
called Volta's Law of the electrochemical series.
In 1800, as the result of a professional disagreement over the galvanic response advocated by Luigi
Galvani, he invented the voltaic pile, an early electric battery, which produced a steady electric current.
Volta had determined that the most effective pair of dissimilar metals to produce electricity was zinc and
silver. Initially he experimented with individual cells in series, each cell being a wine goblet filled with
brine into which the two dissimilar electrodes were dipped. The electric pile replaced the goblets with
cardboard soaked in brine. (The number of cells, and thus the voltage it could produce, was limited by
the pressure, exerted by the upper cells, that would squeeze all of the brine out of the cardboard of the
In announcing his discovery of the pile, Volta paid tribute to the influences of William Nicholson, Tiberius
Cavallo and Abraham Bennet.
An additional invention pioneered by Volta, was the remotely operated pistol. He made use of a Leyden
jar to send an electric current from Como to Milan, which in turn, set off the pistol. The current was sent
along a wire that was insulated from the ground by wooden boards. This invention was a significant
forerunner of the idea of the telegraph which also makes use of a current to communicate.
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