Alessandro Volta

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Volta, Alessandro


Born Feb. 18, 1745, in Como; died there Mar. 5, 1827. Italian physicist and physiologist.

Volta studied at a Jesuit school. From 1774 to 1779 he taught physics at the gymnasium (secondary school) in Como and in 1779 became a professor at the University of Pavia. In 1815 he was made the director of a philosophy faculty in Padua. His work was devoted to electricity, chemistry, and physiology. He invented a number of electrical instruments (the electrophorus, electrometer, capacitor, electroscope, and other instruments). In 1776 he discovered and studied a gaseous fuel (methane).

From 1792 to 1794, having become interested in ’ ’animal electricity” discovered by L. Galvini, Volta conducted a number of experiments and demonstrated that the observed phenomena were associated with the existence of a closed circuit consisting of two dissimilar metals and a liquid. In 1800 he invented the so-called voltaic pile, the first source of direct current which consisted of 20 pairs of disks made of two different metals and separated by layers of cloth or paper moistened with brine or an alkaline solution. He discovered the mutual electrification of different metals when placed in contact (contact potential difference) and arranged them in a series according to the voltage developed between them. The unit of electrical potential, the volt, is named after him.

By performing many comparative-physiological experiments, Volta observed higher electrical excitability of nerves in animals compared with muscles and also the smooth musculature of the intestine and stomach compared with that of the skeleton. He discovered (1792-95) the electrical irritability of the visual and taste organs in man. These works were of great significance in the history of physiological experimental methodology.


Le opere… , vols. 1-7. Milan, 1918-29.
Epistolario… , vols. 1-3. Bologna, 1949-52.
In Russian translation:
In the book Galvani, A., and A. Volta. Izbrannye raboty o zhivotnom élektrichestve. Moscow-Leningrad, 1937.


Radovskii, M. I. Gal’vani i Vol’ta. Moscow-Leningrad, 1941.
Polvani, G. Alessandro Volta. Pisa, 1942.