Biography of Famous Scientist Alessandro Volta Part 1

About the famous scientist Alessandro Volta, history and biography of the man who made the first battery and coined the word volt.


Alessandro Volta (1745-1827)

VOLT (volt) n. The International System unit of electric potential and electromotive force, equal to the difference of electric potential between two points on a conducting wire carrying a constant current of one ampere when the power dissipated between the points is one watt.

Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta was born into a family of lesser Italian nobility. He was the youngest son of a father who had been a Jesuit priest for 11 years before leaving the order to marry and raise nine children. The family was so poor that there was seldom enough money for copybooks and pencils, but Alessandro was an exceptional boy. By the time he left school at 16, he had a command of English, French, and Latin as well as Italian; he read Dutch and Spanish fluently and had composed a classical poem of some 500 verses on the observations and discoveries of the English chemist Joseph Priestley.

Volta was still a small child when Benjamin Franklin flew his kite in a thunderstorm, but he read about it later and became increasingly fascinated with the phenomenon of electricity. When he was 24, he completed his electrophorus, which is still used in classrooms to demonstrate static electricity; at 26 he proposed and showed the practicability of an electric signal line from Como (his home) to Milan; and at 27 he was offered, and accepted, the professorship of physics at the University of Pavia.

Gases interested Volta; he discovered that marsh gases were inflammable, and he demonstrated just how it was that gases expanded under heat. He also perfected the sensitivity of the electrometer, an instrument designed to measure the subtlest of electric charges, such as that generated by the mere evaporation of water from a basin.

Volta loved to travel for the opportunity it gave him to exchange ideas with other scientists. While in Geneva he crossed into France in order to meet Voltaire at Ferney; the 80-year-old French philosopher drove to their rendezvous in a luxurious carriage preceded by two mounted heralds. In Paris he met the astronomer Laplace, the naturalist Count Buffon, the chemist Lavoisier, and most important, Benjamin Franklin. In England he made the acquaintance of Priestley, Sir Joseph Banks, James Watt, and the American potato, which he carried back to Pavia to be cultivated there.

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