History of Luigi Galvani and Alessandro Volta

Luigi Galvani was an Italian physician, physicist, and biologist who pioneered the field of bioelectrics and discovered what he called animal electricity. He followed in his father’s footsteps and obtained his medical education from the University of Bologna. In his early medical career, he primarily focused on the nasal mucosa and the middle ear but soon abandoned this work because a rival stole his work. This turn of events proved to be fortuitous as it forced him to turn to physics. His most famous work stems from an accidental experiment when he discovered dead frog legs could twitch when introduced to two pieces of metal to complete the circuit (Dibner). According to the Corrosion Doctors’ biography, Galvani wrote, “While one of those who were assisting me touched lightly, and by chance, the point of his scalpel to the internal nerves of the frog, suddenly all the muscles of its limbs were seen to be so contracted that they seemed to have fallen into tonic convulsions” (“Luigi Galvani (1737 – 1789″). At the time, Galvani believed that he had reanimated a dead body because the corpse conducted electricity; he coined this phenomenon animal electricity. He proposed that animals conducted electricity in order to generate muscle movements throughout their bodies—a theory that sent both the scientific and medical community into a frantic excitement (Lai). Galvani’s work became so widely popular in the scientific field that it incited jealousy in a physicist by the name of Alessandro Volta. Volta was convinced that Galvani was wrong and tested the theory without the presence of a dead body. Eventually, Volta found that metals were the sole parts responsible for the electric current and argued that a new invention could potentially allow for a steady source of electricity. This would be later known as the Voltaic pile or battery. Volta published his findings a decade after Galvani’s theory about animal electricity, disproving Galvani and his work.

Below are two videos explaining Luigi and Galvani’s work.

Top image: “Luigi Galvani” from 1892 Popular Science Monthly, volume 41 (Wikicommons), was a portrait of Luigi Galvani that has been modified from the original version in order to provide a greater contrast within the image.

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Balistreri, Kathy, director. How Luigi Galvani’s Frog Leg Experiment Made a Dead Frog Jump & Invented the Battery. Youtube, KathyLovesPhysics, 12 Oct. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=xG6W8A3JYFA.

Balistreri, Kathy, director. How Volta Invented the First Battery Because He Was Jealous of Galvani’s FrogYoutube, KathyLovesPhysics, 25 Oct. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6wJfx0VYRY.

Dibner, Bern. “Luigi Galvani.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 28 Mar. 2017, www.britannica.com/biography/Luigi-Galvani.

Lai, Andrew. “Helix Magazine.” The Experiment That Shocked the World | Helix Magazine, 2 Aug. 2017, helix.northwestern.edu/article/experiment-shocked-world.

“Luigi Galvani (1737-1798).” Luigi Galvani, Corrosion Doctors, www.corrosion- doctors.org/Biographies/GalvaniBio.htm.\