Alessandro Volta

Alessandro Volta

Overview
Count
Count
A count or countess is an aristocratic nobleman in European countries. The word count came into English from the French comte, itself from Latin comes—in its accusative comitem—meaning "companion", and later "companion of the emperor, delegate of the emperor". The adjective form of the word is...

 Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Gerolamo Umberto Volta
(18 February 1745 – 5 March 1827) was a Lombard
Lombardy
Lombardy is one of the 20 regions of Italy. The capital is Milan. One-sixth of Italy's population lives in Lombardy and about one fifth of Italy's GDP is produced in this region, making it the most populous and richest region in the country and one of the richest in the whole of Europe...

 physicist
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

 known especially for the invention of the battery
Battery (electricity)
An electrical battery is one or more electrochemical cells that convert stored chemical energy into electrical energy. Since the invention of the first battery in 1800 by Alessandro Volta and especially since the technically improved Daniell cell in 1836, batteries have become a common power...

 in 1800.

Volta was born in Como
Como
Como is a city and comune in Lombardy, Italy.It is the administrative capital of the Province of Como....

, Italy, and taught in the public schools there. In 1774, he became a physics professor at the Royal School in Como. A year later, he improved and popularized the electrophorus
Electrophorus
An electrophorus is a capacitive generator used to produce electrostatic charge via the process of electrostatic induction. A first version of it was invented in 1762 by Swedish professor Johan Carl Wilcke,...

, a device that produces a static electric charge.
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Encyclopedia
Count
Count
A count or countess is an aristocratic nobleman in European countries. The word count came into English from the French comte, itself from Latin comes—in its accusative comitem—meaning "companion", and later "companion of the emperor, delegate of the emperor". The adjective form of the word is...

 Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Gerolamo Umberto Volta
(18 February 1745 – 5 March 1827) was a Lombard
Lombardy
Lombardy is one of the 20 regions of Italy. The capital is Milan. One-sixth of Italy's population lives in Lombardy and about one fifth of Italy's GDP is produced in this region, making it the most populous and richest region in the country and one of the richest in the whole of Europe...

 physicist
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

 known especially for the invention of the battery
Battery (electricity)
An electrical battery is one or more electrochemical cells that convert stored chemical energy into electrical energy. Since the invention of the first battery in 1800 by Alessandro Volta and especially since the technically improved Daniell cell in 1836, batteries have become a common power...

 in 1800.

Early life and works


Volta was born in Como
Como
Como is a city and comune in Lombardy, Italy.It is the administrative capital of the Province of Como....

, Italy, and taught in the public schools there. In 1774, he became a physics professor at the Royal School in Como. A year later, he improved and popularized the electrophorus
Electrophorus
An electrophorus is a capacitive generator used to produce electrostatic charge via the process of electrostatic induction. A first version of it was invented in 1762 by Swedish professor Johan Carl Wilcke,...

, 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 Wilcke
Johan Wilcke
Johan Carl Wilcke was a Swedish physicist.Wilcke was born in Wismar, son of a clergyman who in 1739 was appointed second pastor of the German Church in Stockholm. He went to the German school in Stockholm and enrolled at the University of Uppsala in 1749...

.

In 1776-77, Volta studied the chemistry
Chemistry
Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....

 of gas
Gas
Gas is one of the three classical states of matter . Near absolute zero, a substance exists as a solid. As heat is added to this substance it melts into a liquid at its melting point , boils into a gas at its boiling point, and if heated high enough would enter a plasma state in which the electrons...

es. He discovered methane
Methane
Methane is a chemical compound with the chemical formula . It is the simplest alkane, the principal component of natural gas, and probably the most abundant organic compound on earth. The relative abundance of methane makes it an attractive fuel...

 by collecting the gas from marshes. He devised experiments such as the ignition
Combustion
Combustion or burning is the sequence of exothermic chemical reactions between a fuel and an oxidant accompanied by the production of heat and conversion of chemical species. The release of heat can result in the production of light in the form of either glowing or a flame...

 of methane by an electric spark
Electrostatic discharge
Electrostatic discharge is a serious issue in solid state electronics, such as integrated circuits. Integrated circuits are made from semiconductor materials such as silicon and insulating materials such as silicon dioxide...

 in a closed vessel. Volta also studied what we now call electrical capacitance
Capacitance
In electromagnetism and electronics, capacitance is the ability of a capacitor to store energy in an electric field. Capacitance is also a measure of the amount of electric potential energy stored for a given electric potential. A common form of energy storage device is a parallel-plate capacitor...

, 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
Volt
The volt is the SI derived unit for electric potential, electric potential difference, and electromotive force. The volt is named in honor of the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta , who invented the voltaic pile, possibly the first chemical battery.- Definition :A single volt is defined as the...

.

In 1779 he became professor of experimental physics at the University of Pavia
University of Pavia
The University of Pavia is a university located in Pavia, Lombardy, Italy. It was founded in 1361 and is organized in 9 Faculties.-History:...

, a chair he occupied for almost 25 years. In 1794, Volta married an aristocratic lady also from Como, Teresa Peregrini, with whom he raised three sons: Giovanni, Flaminio and Zanino.

Volta and Galvani


The "animal electricity" noted by Luigi Galvani
Luigi Galvani
Luigi Aloisio Galvani was an Italian physician and physicist who lived and died in Bologna. In 1791, he discovered that the muscles of dead frogs legs twitched when struck by a spark...

 when two different metals were connected in series with the frog's leg and to one another. Volta realized that the frog's leg served as both a conductor of electricity (we would now call it an electrolyte
Electrolyte
In chemistry, an electrolyte is any substance containing free ions that make the substance electrically conductive. The most typical electrolyte is an ionic solution, but molten electrolytes and solid electrolytes are also possible....

) and as a detector of electricity. He replaced the frog's leg with brine-soaked paper, and detected the flow of electricity by other means familiar to him from his previous studies. In this way he discovered the electrochemical series, and the law that the electromotive force
Electromotive force
In physics, electromotive force, emf , or electromotance refers to voltage generated by a battery or by the magnetic force according to Faraday's Law, which states that a time varying magnetic field will induce an electric current.It is important to note that the electromotive "force" is not a...

 (emf) of a galvanic cell
Galvanic cell
A Galvanic cell, or Voltaic cell, named after Luigi Galvani, or Alessandro Volta respectively, is an electrochemical cell that derives electrical energy from spontaneous redox reaction taking place within the cell...

, consisting of a pair of metal electrode
Electrode
An electrode is an electrical conductor used to make contact with a nonmetallic part of a circuit...

s separated by electrolyte, is the difference between their two electrode potentials (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 Galvani, he invented the voltaic pile
Voltaic pile
A voltaic pile is a set of individual Galvanic cells placed in series. The voltaic pile, invented by Alessandro Volta in 1800, was the first electric battery...

, an early electric battery
Battery (electricity)
An electrical battery is one or more electrochemical cells that convert stored chemical energy into electrical energy. Since the invention of the first battery in 1800 by Alessandro Volta and especially since the technically improved Daniell cell in 1836, batteries have become a common power...

, which produced a steady electric current. Volta had determined that the most effective pair of dissimilar metals to produce electricity was zinc
Zinc
Zinc , or spelter , is a metallic chemical element; it has the symbol Zn and atomic number 30. It is the first element in group 12 of the periodic table. Zinc is, in some respects, chemically similar to magnesium, because its ion is of similar size and its only common oxidation state is +2...

 and silver
Silver
Silver is a metallic chemical element with the chemical symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it has the highest electrical conductivity of any element and the highest thermal conductivity of any metal...

. Initially he experimented with individual cells in series, each cell being a wine goblet filled with brine
Brine
Brine is water, saturated or nearly saturated with salt .Brine is used to preserve vegetables, fruit, fish, and meat, in a process known as brining . Brine is also commonly used to age Halloumi and Feta cheeses, or for pickling foodstuffs, as a means of preserving them...

 into which the two dissimilar electrodes were dipped. The voltaic pile replaced the goblets with cardboard soaked in brine.

First battery


In announcing his discovery of the pile, Volta paid tribute to the influences of William Nicholson
William Nicholson (chemist)
William Nicholson was a renowned English chemist and writer on "natural philosophy" and chemistry, as well as a translator, journalist, publisher, scientist, and inventor.-Early life:...

, Tiberius Cavallo
Tiberius Cavallo
Tiberius Cavallo was an Italian physicist and natural philosopher.-Life:He was born at Naples, where his father was a physician....

 and Abraham Bennet
Abraham Bennet
Abraham Bennet FRS was an English clergyman and physicist, the inventor of the gold-leaf electroscope and developer of an improved magnetometer...

.

An additional invention pioneered by Volta was the remotely operated pistol. He made use of a Leyden jar
Leyden jar
A Leyden jar, or Leiden jar, is a device that "stores" static electricity between two electrodes on the inside and outside of a jar. It was invented independently by German cleric Ewald Georg von Kleist on 11 October 1745 and by Dutch scientist Pieter van Musschenbroek of Leiden in 1745–1746. The...

 to send an electric current from Como
Como
Como is a city and comune in Lombardy, Italy.It is the administrative capital of the Province of Como....

 to Milan
Milan
Milan is the second-largest city in Italy and the capital city of the region of Lombardy and of the province of Milan. The city proper has a population of about 1.3 million, while its urban area, roughly coinciding with its administrative province and the bordering Province of Monza and Brianza ,...

 (~50 km or ~30 miles), 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.


The battery made by Volta is credited as the first electrochemical cell. It consists of two electrodes: one made of zinc
Zinc
Zinc , or spelter , is a metallic chemical element; it has the symbol Zn and atomic number 30. It is the first element in group 12 of the periodic table. Zinc is, in some respects, chemically similar to magnesium, because its ion is of similar size and its only common oxidation state is +2...

, the other of copper
Copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

. The electrolyte
Electrolyte
In chemistry, an electrolyte is any substance containing free ions that make the substance electrically conductive. The most typical electrolyte is an ionic solution, but molten electrolytes and solid electrolytes are also possible....

 is sulfuric acid
Sulfuric acid
Sulfuric acid is a strong mineral acid with the molecular formula . Its historical name is oil of vitriol. Pure sulfuric acid is a highly corrosive, colorless, viscous liquid. The salts of sulfuric acid are called sulfates...

 or a brine mixture of salt and water. The electrolyte exists in the form 2H+ and SO42−. The zinc, which is higher than both copper and hydrogen in the electrochemical series
Standard electrode potential (data page)
The values of standard electrode potentials are given in the table below in volts relative to the standard hydrogen electrode and are assembled from referencesThe values are for the following conditions:* the temperature of 298.15 K ;...

, reacts with the negatively charged sulfate (SO42−). The positively charged hydrogen ions (proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

s) capture electron
Electron
The electron is a subatomic particle with a negative elementary electric charge. It has no known components or substructure; in other words, it is generally thought to be an elementary particle. An electron has a mass that is approximately 1/1836 that of the proton...

s from the copper, forming bubbles of hydrogen gas, H2. This makes the zinc rod the negative electrode and the copper rod the positive electrode.

We now have two terminals, and the current will flow if we connect them. The reactions in this cell are as follows:
zinc
Zn Zn2+ + 2e

sulfuric acid
2H+ + 2e H2


The copper does not react, functioning as an electrode for the chemical reaction.

However, this cell also has some disadvantages. It is unsafe to handle, as sulfuric acid, even if dilute, is dangerous. Also, the power of the cell diminishes over time because the hydrogen gas is not released, accumulating instead on the surface of the zinc electrode and forming a barrier between the metal and the electrolyte solution.

Last years and retirement


In honor of his work, Volta was made a count by Napoleon in 1801. Furthermore, he was depicted upon the Italian 10,000 Lire
Italian lira
The lira was the currency of Italy between 1861 and 2002. Between 1999 and 2002, the Italian lira was officially a “national subunit” of the euro...

 (no longer in circulation) along with a sketch of his famous Voltaic Pile.

Volta retired in 1819 to his estate in Camnago, a frazione
Frazione
A frazione , in Italy, is the name given in administrative law to a type of territorial subdivision of a comune; for other administrative divisions, see municipio, circoscrizione, quartiere...

 of Como now called Camnago Volta after him, where he died on March 5, 1827. He is buried in Camnago Volta.

Volta's legacy is celebrated by a Temple
Tempio Voltiano
The Tempio Voltiano is a museum dedicated to Alessandro Volta situated in the city of Como, Italy.The neoclassical building was completed in 1927 to celebrate the 100th death anniversary of the scientist, but it was inaugurated only in 1928....

 located in the public gardens by the lake. It is also a museum which has been built in his honor and exhibits some of the original equipment he used to conduct experiments; not far away stands the Villa Olmo
Villa Olmo
Villa Olmo is a neoclassic villa located in the city of Como, northern Italy.-History:The construction began in 1797 and was commissioned by marquis Innocenzo Odescalchi to the Swiss architect Simone Cantoni....

, which houses the Voltian Foundation, an organization promoting scientific activities. Volta carried out his experimental studies and made his first inventions in Como.

Publications


De vi attractiva ignis electrici (1769) (On the attractive force of electric fire)

See also

  • Volta Prize
    Volta Prize
    The Volta Prize was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1801–1802 to honor Alessandro Volta, an Italian physicist noted for developing the battery. At that time Alessandro Volta was summoned to Paris to demonstrate his great discovery before the French Academy of Sciences...

  • Luigi Galvani
    Luigi Galvani
    Luigi Aloisio Galvani was an Italian physician and physicist who lived and died in Bologna. In 1791, he discovered that the muscles of dead frogs legs twitched when struck by a spark...

  • Eudiometer
    Eudiometer
    A eudiometer is a laboratory device that measures the change in volume of a gas mixture following a physical or chemical change.- Description :...

  • History of the battery
    History of the battery
    The history of the development of electrochemical cells is crucial to the scientific study and industrial applications of electricity, for prior to the rise of electrical grids around the end of the 19th century, they were the main source of electricity...

  • Volta (lunar crater)
    Volta (crater)
    Volta is a lunar crater near the northwest limb of the Moon. It is located south-southeast of the crater Xenophanes, and due north of the smaller Galvani. The crater Regnault lies across the western rim of Volta. Attached to the southwest rim of Volta and the southern rim of Regnault is Stokes...

  • History of the internal combustion engine
    History of the internal combustion engine
    Although various forms of internal combustion engines were developed before the 19th century, their use was hindered until the commercial drilling and production of petroleum began in the mid-1850s...

  • Lemon battery
    Lemon battery
    A lemon battery is a device used in experiments proposed in many science textbooks around the world. It is made by inserting two different metallic objects, for example a galvanized nail and a copper coin, into a lemon. The copper coin serves as the positive electrode or cathode and the galvanized...


External links