Alessandro Volta, Leading Physicist, Invented the Electric Battery

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Name: Alessandro Giuseppi Volta
Birth Date: February 18, 1745 – March 05, 1827
Job Functions: Physicist
Fields: Physics
Known For: Work with electrical currents
Invisible Mentor: Joseph Priestley

This mini biography of Italian leader, Alessandro Giuseppi Volta, is meant to assist you in developing the leader in you. You can learn what to, and what not to do by studying how he lived. Volta invented the electric storage battery and was memorialized for his efforts by the term volt, which denotes the unit of electromotive force. He is also known as the “Newton of Electricity.”

Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta

Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Application of Ideas That Matter: How to Develop the Leader in You

  1. Work constantly to improve your craft.
  2. What problems need solving in your field? Work on solutions.
  3. Make your work public so others might benefit from it.
  4. Be aware of what’s happening in your field and what your peers are doing. Build on what they’re doing, or create something entirely different.
  5. Look at what’s been done in the field, are there processes and concepts that you can build on and improve?

Alessandro Volta’s Steps to Success

  • At age 14, Alessandro Volta reads a paper by Joseph Priestley on the history of electricity and is so influenced by it that he decides to become a physicist, and gets the credentials that he needs.
  • In 1769, he publishes his first paper on electricity. At the time, he hadn’t made any scientific discovery, and the paper was more speculative in nature.
  • In 1774, Volta is appointed professor of physics at the high school in Como.
  • In this role as professor of physics, he invents the electrophorous, which is s device that is able to store significant electrical charges, replacing the Leyden jar which was in use at the time.
  • Volta builds on the work of French physicist Charles Augustin de Coulomb, which leads to his invention.
  • In 1776, he becomes involved in the study of marsh gas and discovers methane gas. Volta also explodes hydrogen gas to remove oxygen from air, using an eudiometer, which he developed, and is able to make is the first to accurately determine the proportion of oxygen in the air.
  • In 1779, after building a reputation as a physicist, he is appointed professor at the University of Pavia.
  • In 1782 he becomes a corresponding member of the French Academy of Sciences, in 1791 he is elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London, and in 1794, in recognition of his contributions to electricity and chemistry, he is awarded the society’s Copley Medal.
  • At the University of Pavia he develops an an electrometer that allows him to measure electric currents.
  • In 1782, Volta invents the condensing electroscope that is an extremely sensitive measuring device that detects the existence of negative charge in water vapor and in the smoke of burning coals.
  • In 1791, Volta is drawn into a controversy which involves Luigi Galvani, a fellow Italian physicist and philosopher. Galvani purports that “animal electricity” exist. He sends a copy of his paper to Volta.
  • Volta sets out to prove/disprove Galvani’s theory by conducting a series of experiments, some of which were on himself.
  • The controversy continues for many years, and in 1800, Volta builds a device that produces a large flow of electricity. He is able to create a constant flow of electrical current and the first electric battery is invented.
  • Volta is able to build the battery after reading a paper by William Nicholson.
  • His invention enables others like Humphry Davy, to develop electrochemistry as a new branch of science, and Hans Christian Oersted and Georg Simon Ohm, to explore electromagnetism. His invention fosters modern applications of electricity.
  • Volta announces his discovery in a letter, dated March 20, 1800, to Sir Joseph Banks, then president of the Royal Society of London.
  • In 1801, Napoleon summons Volta to Paris, and he gives a series of lectures on his discoveries before the National Institute of France.
  • His creativity wanes in the last 25 years of his life, and at the prodding of Napoleon, he continues to teach at the University of Pavia and eventually becomes its director of the philosophy faculty.

Biggest Accomplishments/Why Alessandro Volta’s Contribution Matters

  • Invented the first electrical storage battery.
  • Other scientists saw other applications for Volta’s invention. “English chemist William Nicholson built his own voltaic pile when he hears about Volta’s invention in 1800, and discovers the flowing current “electrolyzed” the water, breaking it up into hydrogen and oxygen. English physicist and chemist Henry Cavendish had shown those two elements could be combined to form water; Nicholson reversed the procedure. Nicholson’s discoveries would later lead to the work of English chemist Humphry Davy, who used electrolysis to identify a number of new elements, including potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium.” Scientists – Their Lives and Works

Lessons from Alessandro Volta

  • Works tirelessly when he is young and has the energy.
  • Builds on the work of others.
  • Before he denounces Galvani, he conducts tests to disprove the other physicist’s theory.
  • Builds relationships with his peers.

Sources Cited/Referenced

Encyclopedia of World Biography
World of Physics
Science and Its Times
Science and Its Times – Alessandro Giuseppi Volta
Macmillan Encyclopedia of Energy – History
Scientists – Their Lives and Works
Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography

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