The Intertwined Events of Alessandro Volta, an Unfortunate Frog, and the Battery Plus, the Upcoming Volta WW RTTY Contest in Volta’s Honor

Alessandro Volta (born February 18, 1745) wasn’t the first scientist to experiment with electromagnetism and the know-how needed to develop the battery, but he was the first to get it right, and that’s probably a very good thing—especially if you’re a frog.

You see, in 1780, Italian scientist Luigi Galvani was dissecting the dismembered body of a frog, namely the legs and attached spinal cord, which were attached to a brass or iron hook—when the legs inexplicably twitched. Galvani explained the unexpected reaction with the theory of “animal electricity,” or electricity generated by the frog’s muscles—unaware of the current created between the brass or iron hook attached to the frog and the iron scalpel held in his own hand.

Not one to lack thoroughness, however, Galvani performed some additional experimentation, attaching the frog’s appendages to a metal fence during a lightning storm (again with brass or iron hooks) where the legs again showed movement, further substantiating his theory of “animal electricity,” a theory that quickly gained support in the Italian scientific community.

Volta, however, disagreed with the idea of “animal electricity,” and to the benefit of frogs everywhere, he disagreed so strongly that he set out to prove Galvani wrong—which he did with great success and in a rather short period of time.

In 1800, Volta invented the voltaic pile—the first recognized battery and predecessor to modern batteries of today—which, at the time, he was greatly berated for by staunch supporters of the “animal electricity” theory, spurring a rather heated and very public debate on the causation of electricity.

The voltaic pile consisted of pairs of copper and zinc discs messily stacked with brine-soaked cloth or cardboard layers in between to act as the electrolyte. A wire was then connected to both ends. This produced a stable and continuous current with little charge lost when not in use, although the voltage in early models wasn’t strong enough to produce a spark.

Volta recognized that it was the dissimilar metals (the scalpel and hook) that were generating a current through our poor frog friend with the animal tissue working as a conduit—and not the muscles of the frog generating the electrical current.

Initial skeptics of Volta and his voltaic pile were soon converted, and Volta became a rather esteemed and influential figure. He was even made a count by Napoleon in 1810. And his image is still visible on currency, stamps, and of course, immortalized with every utterance and usage of the electric unit, the volt.

Hams can celebrate Volta at the Alessandro Volta WW RTTY Contest May 14, 1200Z to May 15, 1200Z. Check out the contest page for details. Interested in getting started in RTTY mode? Check out this OnAllBands article.

And if you need batteries, battery backup systems, battery boosters, and battery disconnect switches for your station, you’ll find what you need at DXEngineering.com.

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