Volta, Alessandro Antonio Anastasio

Count Alessandro Antonio Anastasio Volta was born on February 18, 1745 in Como, Duchy of Milan. At age 39, Volta became a professor at the Royal School in Como in the physics department. A year later, in 1775, Volta invented a device called the electrophorus which generates static electric charges. He marketed his creation so well, that he is often given credit as its inventor. However, a similar machine was documented by Johan Carl Wilcke in 1762.

He changed his focus to chemistry in 1776 and 1777 specifically studying atmospheric electricity. He conducted such experiments as lighting gases on fire with electricity. He discovered methane during these years. He also devised that electric potential and charge are proportional in every object. This is called Volta’s Law of Capacitance. It is theorize that the electrical unit of measurement called the volt was named after him.

He became a professor at the University of Pavia once again in the Physics department in 1779. He taught at the University for 25 years. Volta married the daughter of Count Ludovico Peregrini, Teresa in 1794. He and his wife had three sons.

Circa 1791, he began studying animal electricity. He realized that when two pieces of metal are connected on opposites of a frog’s leg and electricity is passed through them that the frog leg served as an electric conductor or electrolyte and as a detector of electric current. He conducted this experiment numerous times replacing the frog leg with other elements like paper soaked in salt water. These experiments led him to the discovery of the electrochemical series and the law that the electromotive force of a galvanic cell is the difference of their two electrode potentials. This is called Volta’s Law of the Electrochemical Series. Years of research and work came to fruition in 1800 when he developed the voltaic pile which was an early version of the electric battery which generated a constant electrical current. Volta surmised that the best pair of dissimilar metals to produce electricity was zinc and silver. Drawbacks of this design were that it was unsafe to handle and that its power was reduced over time.

In 1810, Napoleon made him a count to honor of his work. In 1815, the Emperor of Austria dubbed him a professor of philosophy at Padua. The Voltian Temple is a museum in Como. That was built in his honor and showcases a few pieces of the original equipment used to conduct his experiments.

Volta retired in Spain. He died March 5, 1827 at age 82 and was buried in Como. He fathered 6 children Christian, Alezandro, Louis, Johann, Magdalena, Alessandro Junior.

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