Alessandro Volta, Italian physicist

Alessandro Volta, Italian physicist

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Credit: SHEILA TERRY/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: Alessandro Volta (1745-1827), Italian physicist. Volta invented the electric battery. His battery consisted of alternating disks of silver and zinc with brine-soaked card between them. Volta first announced his discovery in 1800 in a letter to the Royal Society in Britain. He held professorships at the universities of Como (from 1774) and Pavia (from 1779). He started studying electricity in 1786, after seeing the work of Galvani, who showed that frog bodies twitched when electric current is passed through them. The SI unit of electrical potential difference, the volt (V), is named after Volta. Volta was awarded the French Legion of Honour in 1805 (star-shaped medal on his breast), and made a Count of the Kingdom of Italy by the Emperor Napoleon in 1810.

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