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 The Discovery of Current Electricity - 1791
Luigi Galvani (1737 - 1798)


Luigi Galvani
(1737 - 1798)

Luigi Galvani is famous for his discovery that when a nerve was touched by a metal knife during the discharge of a nearby electrical machine, the leg would twitch. He attributed this phenomena to animal electricity, meaning he believed there was electricity in the frog muscle similar to that found in an electric eel.  In 1791 he published "De Viribus..." (below left) where he made his discovery public.  This book established the foundation of electrophysiology, and launched the modern science of electricity.. The elegant plates of electric apparatus and  frog specimens (see below) are among the most famous images in biology.

Publication of this paper sparked a lively debate between Galvani and Alessandro Volta.  Volta  believed that Galvani was wrong, and in his efforts to prove that the muscle was reacting to a small electrical charge, Volta developed the basic research that led directly to his development of the electric battery (the Volta pile) in 1800. The Volta pile provided continuous electric current for the first time, making possible virtually every electric invention to follow.

Galvani continued his experiments and in 1794 published "Dellí uso e dellí attivita..." (below right) in which he began the account of his electrical experiments without the presence of metals. The experiments demonstrated the presence of electrical energy in living tissue by showing that convulsions in frog nerve-muscle preparations could be produced simply by touching nerve to muscle.

 

De Viribus Electricitatis in Motu Musculari
Luigi Galvani
1791
 

Dellí uso e dellí attivita dellí arco conduttore nelle contrazioni dei muscoli
Luigi Galvani
1794


Copperplate Illustrations from "De Viribus Electricitatis in Motu Musculari":


 


 


Experiments with atmospheric electricity (lightning)


Additional experiments with larger animals

 

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