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Alessandro Volta invented the battery

Posted in Historical articles, History, Science on Thursday, 28 March 2013

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This edited article about Alessandro Volta originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 214 published on 19 February 1966.

Alessandro Volta, picture, image, illustration

Alessandro Volta demonstrates his ‘Pile’, prototype of the battery

Next time you switch on your electric torch, remember Alessandro Volta, who was born at Como, Italy, on February 18, 1745. It was Volta who discovered how the action of chemicals on metals could be made to give an electric current; and from his discovery developed the electric cell used in torch batteries, and a host of other devices.

Until Volta turned to the problem of producing a continuous current, the only way to “make” electricity was by rubbing together two substances such as sealing wax and flannel, or glass and silk. This produced static (stationary) electricity, which was useless for any practical purpose.

Volta spent eight years vainly trying to produce an electric current, and then he hit on the idea of his famous Pile. This consisted of a layered sandwich of zinc and copper discs separated from each other by cardboard soaked in acid.

When the plates at the ends of the pile were connected by a wire, an electric spark resulted. The sparks were continuous, and the flow of sparks was, in fact, an electric current.

Volta carried his invention a stage further. He suspended strips of copper and zinc in a jar filled with acid. When the two metals were joined by a wire, he got an electric current. This was the first electric cell.

By joining a number of such cells together Volta was able to obtain quite a strong current.

Volta came to the conclusion that current in a wire was induced by some kind of pressure. Later experimenters proved his theories to be correct, and in his honour the unit of electrical pressure that drives an electric current through a conductor is called the “volt”.

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