Lived 1745 – 1827.
Alessandro Volta was a physicist, chemist and a pioneer of electrical science. He is most famous for his invention of the electric battery. In brief he:
• Invented the first electric battery – which people then called the “voltaic pile” – in 1800. Using his invention, scientists were able to produce steady flows of electric current for the first time, unleashing a wave of new discoveries and technologies.
• Was the first person to isolate methane.
• Discovered methane mixed with air could be exploded using an electric spark: this is the basis of the internal combustion engine.
• Discovered “contact electricity” resulting from contact between different metals.
• Recognized two types of electric conduction.
• Wrote the first electromotive series. This showed, from highest to lowest, the voltages that different metals can produce in a battery. (We now talk of standard electrode potentials, meaning roughly the same thing.)
• Discovered that electric potential in a capacitor is directly proportional to electric charge.
In recognition of Alessandro Volta’s contributions to science, the unit of electric potential is called the volt.
Early Life and Education
Alessandro Volta was born in Como, Lombardy, Italy, on February 18, 1745. His family was part of the nobility, but not wealthy. Until the age of four, he showed no signs of talking, and his family feared he was not very intelligent or possibly dumb. Fortunately, their fears were misplaced.
His father died leaving unpaid debts when Alessandro was seven. The young Alessandro was educated at home by his uncle until he was twelve years old. He then started studies at a Jesuit boarding school. The Jesuit school charged no fees, but pressurized him to become a priest. His family did not want this, and withdrew him from the school after four years. Volta then studied at the Benzi Seminary until reaching eighteen years of age.
Volta’s family wanted him to become a lawyer. Volta had his own ideas! He was interested in the world around him; he wanted to be a scientist.
Although as a child he had been slow to speak Italian, Volta now seemed to have a special talent for languages. Before he left school, he had learned Latin, French, English, and German. His language talents helped him in later life when he traveled with the aim of discussing his work with scientists in Europe’s centers of science.
Aged 18, Volta was bold enough to begin an exchange of letters about electricity with two leading physicists: Jean-Antoine Nollet in Paris, and Giambatista Beccaria in Turin. Beccaria did not like some of Volta’s ideas and encouraged him to learn more by doing experiments.
When he wrote his first dissertation, Volta addressed it and dedicated it to Beccaria.
“You must be ready to give up even the most attractive ideas when experiment shows them to be wrong.”
Volta’s Lifetime in Context
Volta’s lifetime and the lifetimes of related scientists and mathematicians.
Volta’s Career Timeline Before the Battery
Amateur Scientist, Inventor, Teacher and Physics Professor
1765 – Volta had reached 20 years of age. His wealthy friend Giulio Cesare Gattoni had built a physics laboratory in his home. For several years he kindly allowed Volta to do experiments in this laboratory.
1765 – Volta wrote his first scientific paper, which he addressed to Giambatista Beccaria, about static electricity generated by rubbing different substances together – i.e. triboelectricity.
1769 – Volta published a dissertation titled On the Attractive Force of the Electric Fire, and on the Phenomena Dependent On It, which he sent to Beccaria. He discussed his ideas on the causes of electrical attraction and repulsion and compared these with gravity. He set out his position that, like gravity, static electricity involved action at a distance. The main scientists influencing his thinking were Isaac Newton, Roger Boscovich, Benjamin Franklin and Giambatista Beccaria himself.
1771 – Volta read Joseph Priestley’s 1767 review of scientific research on electricity. He learned that some discoveries he had made recently had already been made by others.
1774 – Volta began work overseeing schools in Como. He said that teaching in Como’s classrooms should be modernized. He wanted the children to spend more time learning science and modern languages.
1775 – Volta began teaching experimental physics in Como’s public grammar school, where he worked until 1778.
1775 – Volta wrote a letter to Joseph Priestley. He explained how he had invented a device that produced static electricity: the electricity could be transferred to other objects. We call this device the electrophorus. Volta wanted to know if the device was a new invention. Priestly told him Johann Wilcke had invented such a device in 1762, but Volta had invented it independently. Priestley encouraged Volta to keep up his interesting research work.
1776 – Aged 31, Volta was the first person to isolate methane gas. He discovered that a methane-air mixture could be exploded in a closed container with an electric spark. An electrically started chemical reaction like this would later be the basis of the internal combustion engine.
1776 – Volta suggested that the sparking apparatus he used to explode methane could also be used to send an electric signal along a wire from Como to the city of Milan.
“What is it possible to do well, in physics particularly, if things are not reduced to degrees and measures?”
Alessandro Volta, 1792
1777 – Volta invented a much better eudiometer than any that had gone before. A eudiometer tests how much oxygen is present in air to determine how good for breathing it is. Volta’s eudiometer was superior to others because it used hydrogen as the gas reacting with oxygen, giving a clean, reliable reaction. The reaction was also cleanly started using an electric spark. The eudiometer worked on the basis that the volume of hydrogen gas in it decreased after sparking because the hydrogen reacted with oxygen gas to make water. The decrease in volume was proportional to the amount of oxygen present in the air.
1777 – Volta set out on a scientific journey to Switzerland and France. He met other scientists and showed them his innovations in electrical equipment. He also traveled with the purpose of making his name better known outside Italy.
1778 – Volta was appointed to the Chair of Experimental Physics at the University of Pavia, about 55 miles (85 km) from Como, a position he would hold for over 40 years.
1778 – Volta discovered that the electrical potential (we now often call this the voltage) in a capacitor is directly proportional to electrical charge.
1781 to 1782 – Volta traveled around most of Europe’s major scientific centers, including the French Academy in Paris, demonstrating his electrical equipment and inventions to eminent people such as Antoine Lavoisier and Benjamin Franklin. Volta was beginning to become well-known outside Italy.
1782 – Volta wrote about the condenser he had constructed (today we would call it a capacitor) to collect and store electric charge, and how he had used it to study a variety of electrical phenomena.
1788 – Volta built increasingly sensitive electroscopes to detect and measure the effects of electric charge.
1790 – Volta carried out experiments on the behavior of gases. He found an accurate value for air’s increasing volume with rising temperature.
1791 – Recognizing that he had become one of Europe’s foremost electrical scientists, Volta was elected to be a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.
1794 – At the age of 50, Volta was awarded the Royal Society’s top prize – the Copley Medal – for his contributions to scientific understanding of electricity.
Invention of the Electric Battery
A Feud over Frogs’ Legs led to the Battery
Volta did not set out to invent the battery. His experiments in this area were actually performed to show the claims of another scientist were wrong. That scientist was another Italian, Luigi Galvani.
Jumping Frogs’ Legs
Galvani discovered that contact between frogs’ leg nerves and different metals caused the legs to move. We now understand that he had created an electric cell. The frog legs acted as the electrolyte.
Galvani was a professor of anatomy. In the late 1780s he noticed that a spark of static electricity carried by a metal scalpel touching the nerves of a dead frog while the legs lay on metal caused the legs to move.
This was an amazing discovery: animal movement was based on electricity in some way.
In 1817, this inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein. In this novel, a creature made of a monstrous mixture of body parts from dead people is brought to life by Doctor Frankenstein using electricity from a lightning storm.
In 1791, Galvani announced his discovery of animal electricity. He believed that animals generated electricity in their bodies and that a fluid within their nerves carried electricity to muscles, causing movement. He believed that electricity from an outside source released a flow of electrical fluid from the nerves, causing the muscles to jump.
He also believed that animals such as electric eels could build up extra amounts of this fluid and use it to deliver electric shocks.
Galvani concluded that animal electricity was similar but not identical to static electricity, and was a unique property of living things.
Volta studied Galvani’s phenomenon.
In 1792, Volta said that the “animal” part of Galvani’s animal electricity was not needed. Animals merely responded to normal electricity. There was no difference between animal electricity and electricity.
Volta performed various experiments on frogs’ legs. He found the key to getting them to move was contact with two different metals. Contact with pieces of the same metal did nothing.
Then, moving away from frogs’ legs, in 1794, Volta did experiments to measure the electrical effect of bringing different pairs of metals into contact. He listed the metals in order of what he called their electromotive force.
Volta’s List Of Conductors, Highest Electromotive Force First
This was the first time anyone had listed electrode potentials. It was the first electrochemical series.
In modern language, we would say that the farther apart the substances on this list are, the greater the voltage they will produce when brought into contact or used as the electrodes in electric cells and batteries. For example, a zinc-graphite cell will produce a greater voltage than a zinc-lead cell.
By 1797, Volta had completely proved his “contact theory” of electricity.
He now knew that the key to producing what today we call a voltage was two metals connected by something moist, like frogs’ legs. The moist connection between the metals did NOT have to be an animal. Connecting the metals by placing them in a cup of dilute acid was a very effective way of producing electricity.
He formally split electrical conductors into those of the first kind: these were metals, graphite and pure charcoal; and the second kind: these were substances we would now call electrolytes, such as salt water or dilute acids. An electric current would result when a circuit was built using two conductors of the first kind combined with one of the second kind.
An illustration from Volta’s 1800 paper. Pieces of silver (A) and zinc (Z) connected by metal strips and sitting in cups of dilute acid will produce electricity. This could be tested by putting a finger in each of the end cups. You would get an electric shock. Unlike Galvani’s version, no animals need be hurt in this production, except for the human tester who gets a mild electric shock.
Alternatively, connecting the metals with paper soaked in dilute acid or salt water also worked.
Volta said that in Galvani’s work, the frogs’ legs had served two functions:
- They conducted electricity as conductors of the second kind.
- They acted as a very sensitive electroscope. (An electroscope is a device used to detect electricity.)
Diagram from Volta’s 1800 paper. The pile is made using discs of silver (A) and zinc (Z) linked in series with card soaked in salt water. The positive and negative polarities of this battery are as shown. Adding more pairs of discs increases the voltage of the battery.
Volta found that by connecting up more and more pairs of metals connected with moist card, he could produce ever higher voltages, leading to significant electrical currents.
And so the electrical battery was born.
Volta used alternating zinc and silver discs linked by card or cloth soaked in salt water.
In 1800, Volta described his results in a letter to Joseph Banks, at the Royal Society in London.
Banks showed the letter to other scientists, and arranged for Volta’s description of his discovery to be read out at a meeting of the Society and then published.
“I continue coupling a plate of silver with one of zinc, and always in the same order… and place between each of these couples a moistened disk. I continue to form a column. If the column contains about twenty of these couples of metal, it will be capable of giving to the fingers several small shocks.”
Alessandro Volta, 1800
Volta’s Battery Unleashes a Wave of New Scientific Discoveries
The battery Volta invented gave chemists a very powerful new method to study substances.
The beauty of his device was that almost anyone could make one – silver and copper coins were available to many people, as were other metals such as iron, tin and zinc.
Within weeks of Volta’s invention of the battery, William Nicholson and Anthony Carlisle built and used a battery to decompose water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Within just six years, Humphry Davy had built a powerful battery. With it, he isolated new chemical elements, and deduced that chemical bonds were electrical in nature.
Volta demonstrates his battery to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1801. Napoleon was very impressed by Volta’s work, giving him the aristocratic title of Count.
Davy’s discoveries of the new elements barium, calcium, lithium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and strontium, were all made possible by Volta’s invention of the battery.
By 1820, courtesy of Volta’s batteries, Hans Christian Oersted was investigating the relationship between electricity and magnetism.
By 1821, Michael Faraday had produced an electric motor.
Volta’s battery produced a steady source of electric current for the first time ever. All electrical devices depend on electric current. Without Volta’s invention, there could be no modern technology. Volta’s battery was an absolutely crucial invention in the development of our technology based civilization.
In 1819, at the age of 74, Volta decided it was time to hang up his capacitors, his voltaic piles, his electrophorus, and his administrative work at the university. He retired to a country house close to his home town of Como, where he could spend more time with his wife, Maria Teresa. They had three sons, Zanino, Faminio and Luigi.
Volta lived in Como until his death, aged 82, on March 5, 1827.
In 1881, scientists decided that the unit of electric potential would be called the volt to recognize Volta’s great contributions to electrical science.
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Volta is known for inventing the first electric battery, but did you know these other facts about the famous physicist? Alessandro Volta is most famous for inventing the electric battery — in fact, the term "volt" is named in his honor — but there was more to him than many people probably realize.What was Alessandro Volta known for? ›
But further research on electromagnetism and any practical use of electricity would require a source of continuous current, which was not available until 1800, when Alessandro Volta invented the first electric pile, the forerunner of the modern battery.Who invented the first battery for kids? ›
Alessandro Volta invented the electrical battery. Volta's invention is a very significant part of the history that lead to the technology we use today.Why did Volta create the battery? ›
His contemporaries thought that a certain "animal electricity" came from the frogs, but Volta came to believe the frogs were conductors. That made him seek a better and more stable way to examine electricity. In 1800 he invented the voltaic pile, which was one of the first electric batteries.When was the first battery made? ›
In 1800, Volta invented the first true battery, which came to be known as the voltaic pile. The voltaic pile consisted of pairs of copper and zinc discs piled on top of each other, separated by a layer of cloth or cardboard soaked in brine (i.e., the electrolyte).Who invented the voltage? ›
Italian word for “turn.” In a sonnet, the volta is the turn of thought or argument: in Petrarchan or Italian sonnets it occurs between the octave and the sestet, and in Shakespearean or English before the final couplet.How was voltage discovered? ›
The man to first discover voltage was Italian Physicist Alessandro Volta. He also uncovered a ton of other cool things, including: Discovering that if you mix methane with air that you can create an electrical spark, which marked the beginning of the now-famous combustion engine.Who invented the voltage battery? ›
Alessandro Volta, in full Conte Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta, (born February 18, 1745, Como, Lombardy [Italy]—died March 5, 1827, Como), Italian physicist whose invention of the electric battery provided the first source of continuous current.How did battery get its name? ›
Before 1799, a “battery” was a row of guns in a defensive position intended to 'batter' an enemy into submission by firing salvos simultaneously. Then Alessandro Volta announced his technique for producing electricity with a pile of metal discs.
Historically, the word "battery" was used to describe a "series of similar objects grouped together to perform a function," as in a battery of artillery. In 1749, Benjamin Franklin first used the term to describe a series of capacitors he had linked together for his electricity experiments.Who is voltage named after? ›
The emperor of Austria made him director of the philosophical faculty at the University of Padua in 1815, 12 years before the day he was to die. The volt as we hear today, was named after Alessandro Volta in 1881 in honor and memory of him.What is the story of Volta? ›
Alessandro Volta was an Italian scientist whose skepticism of Luigi Galvani's theory of animal electricity led him to propose that an electrical current is generated by contact between different metals. Volta's theoretical and experimental work in this area resulted in his construction of the first battery.How long does Volta battery last? ›
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Volta Battery, 1799. [edit | edit source]
In 1799, Alessandro Volta developed the first electrical battery. This battery, known as the Voltaic Cell, consisted of two plates of different metals immersed in a chemical solution.
The Baghdad Battery is believed to be about 2000 years old (from the Parthian period, roughly 250 BCE to CE 250). The jar was found in Khujut Rabu just outside Baghdad and is composed of a clay jar with a stopper made of asphalt. Sticking through the asphalt is an iron rod surrounded by a copper cylinder.What did Volta invent? ›
Alessandro VoltaWhy voltage is called? ›
The volt (symbol: V) is the derived unit for electric potential, voltage, and electromotive force. The volt is named in honour of the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta (1745–1827), who invented the voltaic pile, possibly the first chemical battery.Why is it called voltage? ›
The term recognizes Italian physicist Alessandro Volta (1745-1827), inventor of the voltaic pile—the forerunner of today's household battery. In electricity's early days, voltage was known as electromotive force (emf).Who first said electricity? ›
However, the term 'electricity' was coined by a guy called William Gilbert in 1600 to describe static electricity and there were also two other men, Benjamin Franklin and Michael Faraday who were at the forefront of its research and implementation.
noun, plural vol·te [vohl-tey, vol-; Italian vawl-te]. Music. turn; time (used in phrases): una volta (“once”);prima volta (“first time”).What language is volta? ›
The Volta–Niger family of languages, also known as West Benue–Congo or East Kwa, is one of the branches of the Niger–Congo language family, with perhaps 70 million speakers. Among these are the most important languages of southern Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and southeast Ghana: Yoruba, Igbo, Bini, and Gbe.Is the word of Zod? ›
slang Someone who is very foolish, awkward, or socially inept.What is voltage in real life? ›
Voltage is the measure of specific potential energy (potential energy per unit charge) between two locations. In layman's terms, it is the measure of “push” available to motivate the charge. Voltage, as an expression of potential energy, is always relative between two locations, or points.How is voltage made? ›
Electric generators move magnets near coils of wires to create the voltages on the electrical grid. DC generation creates voltages using the energy from light in photovoltaic cells, or the energy from chemical reactions, usually inside batteries, and even temperature differences by using thermocouples.When was voltage invented? ›
1778 – Volta discovered that the electrical potential (we now often call this the voltage) in a capacitor is directly proportional to electrical charge.Where was battery first discovered? ›
The first true battery was invented by the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta in 1800. Volta stacked discs of copper (Cu) and zinc (Zn) separated by cloth soaked in salty water. Wires connected to either end of the stack produced a continuous stable current.How is a battery made? ›
The cells are connected with a metal (usually lead) that conducts electricity. The terminals, or posts, (usually made of lead) are welded on. The battery is then filled with electrolyte – or battery fluid – a mixture of sulphuric acid and water, and the cover is attached. The final step is charging, or finishing.What voltage was the first battery? ›
The object dates back to the Parthian empire and is believed to be 2,000 years old. The battery consisted of a clay jar that was filled with a vinegar solution into which an iron rod surrounded by a copper cylinder was inserted. This device produced 1.1 to 2.0 volts of electricity.What is the true meaning of battery? ›
Scientific definitions for battery
battery. [ băt′ə-rē ] A device containing an electric cell or a series of electric cells storing energy that can be converted into electrical power (usually in the form of direct current).
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The body is a battery, but not like a Duracell AA kind. It is more dynamic, a solar-powered battery. Your body battery is actually powered by light. The charged so-called EZ water in your cells reacts when it comes into contact with infrared light.How do I show battery percentage on my iPhone 12? ›
Go to Settings > Battery, then turn on Battery Percentage. On an iPhone with Face ID, the battery percentage appears inside the battery symbol on the status bar. Tip: On iPhone models with Face ID, you can also swipe down from the top-right corner to quickly view the battery percentage in Control Center.What is battery crime? ›
Technically, the offences of assault and battery are separate summary offences. An assault is committed when the defendant intentionally or recklessly causes another to apprehend immediate and unlawful violence and battery is committed when a defendant intentionally or recklessly inflicts unlawful force.What is voltage another name for? ›
Voltage, also called electromotive force, is a quantitative expression of the potential difference in charge between two points in an electrical field.What are three names for voltage? ›
Conclusion about the confusion of which one is hazardous, Current or Voltage?: Current Kills, Not the Voltage. But Voltage is must to drive the Current. I.e. Amperes are responsible for electrocution, Not the Volts. Warning: Both AC and DC voltages and currents are dangerous.Who invented methane? ›
Methane was discovered and isolated by Alessandro Volta between 1776 and 1778 when studying marsh gas from Lake Maggiore. It is the major component of natural gas, about 87% by volume.Who discovered that electricity could be used for lighting? ›
Edison sought a safer, cheaper alternative and found it in the 1870s with his incandescent light bulb, the first commercially viable device to produce light from electricity. In 1882, Edison opened his first power plant at Pearl Street Station, providing electricity for several hundred lights in New York City.When was the hydrogen lamp invented? ›
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The VOLTA is Infinity's first shoe with a waterproof leather upper to withstand a variety of working conditions. The premium leather is oh-so-soft for zero break-in period. Offering the comfort of nursing shoes in a sneaker silhouette, the VOLTA packs fit, style, and comfort technology into one very wearable package.Can Volta charge a Tesla? ›
Charging a Tesla at a Volta station
To charge a Tesla at a level 2 station just use the J1772 adapter that came with your vehicle. Third-party adapters are not supported.
Today the maximum charging speed Volta chargers can deliver are: L2 Charging Speed: 7-10 kWh, or up to 35 miles of range per hour. Note that miles per kWh vary from ~2 to ~4 miles per kWh depending on the efficiency of your make/model.When was AAA battery invented? ›
The size was first introduced by The American Ever Ready Company in 1911.What is used in a battery? ›
The average alkaline AAA, AA, C, D, 9-volt or button-cell battery is made of steel and a mix of zinc/manganese/potassium/graphite, with the remaining balance made up of paper and plastic. Being non-toxic materials, all of these battery “ingredients” are conveniently recyclable.How much voltage does a car battery have? ›
When discussing car battery voltage, we're generally talking about a 12-volt battery. When we take a closer look, we see car battery voltage can range anywhere from 12.6 to 14.4. With the engine off, the fully charged car battery voltage will measure 12.6 volts.How did the Volta battery work? ›
His "voltaic pile" operated by placing pieces of cloth soaked in salt water between pairs of zinc and copper discs, as seen in this 1805 pile from Canisius College. Contact between the two metals creates a difference in potential (or pressure, or "voltage"), which in a closed circuit produces electric current.Who is Alessandro Volta for kids? ›
(1745–1827). The electric battery was invented by Italian physicist Alessandro Volta. This invention provided the first source of continuous current. The word voltage comes from Volta's name; the volt, a unit of measurement regarding the strength of an electric current, was named in his honor in 1881.When was Alessandro Volta born? ›
Volta, whose full name was Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta, was born on February 18, 1745, in the town of Como in Lombardy, Italy.What does Volta stand for? ›
Noun. volta (plural voltas) (music) A turning; a time (chiefly used in phrases signifying that the part is to be repeated).
The emperor of Austria made him director of the philosophical faculty at the University of Padua in 1815, 12 years before the day he was to die. The volt as we hear today, was named after Alessandro Volta in 1881 in honor and memory of him.Why is Volta important? ›
Alessandro Volta, the Italian physicist invented the battery, marking a turning point in the study of electrical sciences. For the first time, researchers could rely on a reliable source of electricity that flowed continuously.How long did it take Alessandro Volta to make the battery? ›
Within just six years, Humphry Davy had built a powerful battery. With it, he isolated new chemical elements, and deduced that chemical bonds were electrical in nature. Volta demonstrates his battery to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1801. Napoleon was very impressed by Volta's work, giving him the aristocratic title of Count.Who discovered methane? ›
Methane was discovered and isolated by Alessandro Volta between 1776 and 1778 when studying marsh gas from Lake Maggiore. It is the major component of natural gas, about 87% by volume.Who first invented the DC battery? ›
The Italian physicist Alessandro Volta is generally credited with having developed the first operable battery.How does a battery work? ›
A battery is a device that stores chemical energy and converts it to electrical energy. The chemical reactions in a battery involve the flow of electrons from one material (electrode) to another, through an external circuit. The flow of electrons provides an electric current that can be used to do work.