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Back to the Days of Volta



Volta, inventor of the first electric battery, after whom the standard International unit of electrical pressure, the volt - is named, was one of the early, most brilliant and indefatigable workers in the realm of pure electrical science. He was born in Como, Italy, Feb. 17, 1745, in a house which had been the homestead of the Volta family for over 300 years. Paradoxical as it may seem, true genius is often linked with less brilliant traits of character, and as a child we are told that Alessandro Volta was very backward. Even to the point that he could only speak one word "No," when he had reached his fourth birthday.

But, like many other great scholars of the world, he suddenly developed a great affinity for philosophy and became an earnest student of scientific subjects, especially the natural wonders of nature, particularly electricity. When he was 17 years old he had won prizes in philosophy and at 18, the famous Abbe Nolet. strongly imprest with the youth's superior and divining knowledge, had him write essays on electricity for the great men of the day, as people in general knew very little about this mysterious force at that early period.

The first formal scientific papers of Volta were issued in his 24th year and fourteen years later there appeared his electrophorus (see illustration. Fig. 1.) followed by his electroscope. The photographs here reproduced show the now historic apparatus built and used by Volta in his laboratory.

Fig. 1 shows a variety of electro-static apparatus, including a static electric charging device - the electrophorus, at extreme left, and the detector of static charges - the electroscope at extreme right. Both of these devices are still in use in electrical laboratories where the elements of pure science are studied. Besides, the electricians of today have found many practical applications for the electroscope, never even dreamed of by the illustrious Volta. One important commercial and highly important application of the sensitive electroscope is in the measurement of radio-activity. The Radium production companies employ this method in testing their products. Fig. 1 also shows various plate condensers, invented by Volta.

While professor of physics at Pavia, he conducted experiments which led to the discovery- of the voltaic pile. One of the accompanying illustrations. Fig. 4, shows one of the most remarkable historic documents extant - the original letter, written in French, of Alessandro Volta addrest to the Societe Royale de Londres describing his new electric battery (Voltaic pile), consisting of alternate zinc and copper discs separated by dampened blotter paper sheets.

This formed the basis of present - day electric batteries. There is no doubt that modern electricity really starts with this famous letter. For it was Volta's battery that produced the very first electric galvanic mark.

It was Volta who led the first galvanic current thru a wire. And it was his battery that produced for the first time useful dynamic electricity.

Volta was one of the most prolific inventors of all times. He invented a greater amount of basic electric apparatus than any other living scientist with the exception of Faraday. In Fig. 3, at the left is shown a clever apparatus which when energized by static electricity produces imitation hail. Fig. 3 (at right) shows his apparatus for exploding a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen by means of an electric spark.


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