Stories of inventors and their inventions: Alessandro Volta and the Voltaic pile
Jun 29, 2020
This article was written by the IP Team of InnoEnergy
We all read stories about the innovators of today and how their products or services make a difference. In this series of publications, we shed light on a side that remains often dark and unknown to the public: their patented inventions and what impact they have had on other innovators across society. We did the research and summarized our findings.
Credited as the inventor of the electric battery, Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta was an Italian physicist, chemist, and pioneer of electricity and power. In 1799, he invented the ‘Voltaic pile’ to prove that electricity was not generated solely by living beings and that it could be generated chemically. His other notable contributions include the discovery of methane, invention of the hydrogen lamp and the improvement and popularisation of the ‘electrophorus’ – a device that produced static electricity. He is also the reason behind the name ‘volt’, given to the unit of electrical potential.
Born in Como, Lombardy, Italy, Volta showed no signs of talking till the age of four, causing his family to believe that he was not very intelligent or that he might even be dumb. However, he grew to have a special talent for languages and even before finishing his schooling, was fluent in Latin, French, English, and German. This helped him later when he traveled to discuss his work with scientists across Europe.
Although Volta did not start with the intention of inventing the battery, his quest to prove fellow Italian scientist - Luigi Galvani, wrong, led him to invent the ‘Voltaic pile’, an early electric battery, which produced a steady electric current. Galvani believed that animals generated electricity in their bodies and that a fluid within their nerves carried this electricity to the muscles, causing movement. Though this ‘animal electricity’ was different from static electricity, he believed that the phenomenon was a property unique to living things. Volta, on the other hand, believed that animals merely responded to normal electricity and that there was no difference between ‘animal electricity’ and ‘electricity’. He came up with a list of conductors and concluded that the most effective pair of dissimilar metals to produce electricity was zinc and copper.
The ‘Voltaic pile’ is recognised as one of the first electrochemical cells. It consisted of alternating disks of zinc and silver (or copper and pewter) separated by paper, cardboard or cloth soaked either in salt water or sodium hydroxide. The simplicity and reliability of this battery led to a range of other experiments being conducted, leading to the development of the field of electrochemistry. Being the first invention that produced a steady source of electric current, this invention was the forerunner of the wet and dry cells that we use to power our devices. Volta’s invention was thus crucial for the development of the technology-dependent society that we live in today.
The authors of the publications have used publicly available information only and no private information was handed to them by the innovators or third parties.
The IP team at InnoEnergy specializes in combining public sources and state of the art research tools, to provide our innovative member companies with business intelligence. In this case the following sources were used: