Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastásio Volta
Italian self-taught scientist who devoted himself to building the first electric battery.
Birth: February 18, 1745
Death: March 05, 1827
Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta was born in the city of Como in northern Italy, a region that at the time was controlled by Austria. The youngest son of the ex-Jesuit Filippo Volta, Alessandro saw all his six brothers and sisters become religious and, as a consequence, the doctrine of the Church was an important part of his formation. At the age of 7, after his father’s death, Volta went to live with an uncle, also a religious man, who took up his education and enrolled him in the local Jesuit college, where his mental agility soon caught the attention of the teachers.
In 1765, at the age of 20, Volta and a friend, the canon Giulio Cesare Gattoni, leased a property where they installed the city’s first lightning rod, a scientific laboratory and a museum with natural history collections. There, the self-taught Volta completed his first study on how to get electricity through friction and designed a machine to take harness of the electrical properties of silk. In 1769 he published a dissertation in which he reinterpreted Benjamin Franklin’s theory and developed the concept that all matter has an balanced electric fluid that could be released if that balance was broken by friction or pressure.
In 1774, Volta was hired as a physics teacher at a high school in Como, and the following year, he invented the electrophore, a device that could accumulate and permanently maintain static electricity. In 1778, Volta isolated methane gas, which earned him a good reputation in the scientific world and support to an official trip, offered by the Austrian government, to the main centres of education in Europe. In 1779, at age 34, he took the chair of physics at the University of Pavia, where he continued his research and invented other devices involving static electricity. In 1791, Volta was appointed member and received the Copley medal, from the Royal Society of London.
His most important invention came in the 1800s when, after studying Luigi Galvani’s notes on the agitated movements of a dead frog, Volta demonstrated that the origin of the electric current discovered by Galvani was not in the frog itself, but in the contact of its nerves with metals, in an ionized medium. To prove his theory, Volta piled copper and zinc disks separated by smaller flannel discs and cards soaked in salt water and sulfuric acid, and built the first chemical battery, source of continuous electric current. His invention was presented on March 20th of that year to the other members of the Royal Society, and in 1801, at the invitation of Napoleon, he went to Paris to give a demonstration of his research. In the French capital, he received from the emperor the medal of the Legion of Honour, and was made senator of the kingdom of Lombardy.
Although his main research has been in the field of electricity, Volta has also developed important works on the industrial manufacturing of vaccines and asbestos, Meteorology and pneumatics. The unit of tension, or electromotive force, was given the name volt in his honour.
Tags: Scientist, Volta, Italy, Battery, 18th Century