Thursday, September 1, 2011

Alessandro Volta made one of the greatest electrical discoveries of all time in 1796. He was able to produce continuous electric current for the first time, through his voltaic pile. Basically, it was the first electric battery and the first source of direct current (DC).

Early Years

Alessandro Volta was born on February 18, 1745 in the Italian City of Como, then a part of the Austrian Empire. At the age of 18, he was already performing electrical experiments with well-known European electrical investigators.
Alessandro Volta and the Voltaic Pile
In 1872, he became professor of Physics at the University of Padua, where he became involved in controversy with another electrical pioneer, Luigi Galvani, whose experiments led him to believe that electricity was in the muscles or nerves of animals. Volta on the other hand, maintained that current electricity was metallic electricity.

Voltaic Pile – First Battery

Alessandro Volta made a stack of zinc and copper disks, with a paper disk soaked in a salt acid solution in between them. He built up a high stack alternating the zinc, paper and the copper disks. This is the voltaic pile, which was self-charging. The discharges could be repeated again and again, through a wire connecting the bottom zinc disk to the top copper disk. Volta believed that the contact between unlike metals, via the conducting water produced electricity.

This great invention by Volta revolutionized the use of electricity and gave the world one of its greatest benefits, the electric current.


Alessandro Volta was showered with accolades during his lifetime. Napoleon made him senator and later a count in the French Empire. After Napoleon’s defeat, the Austrians allowed Volta to return to his Italian estate as a citizen in good stead. Volta was rewarded 54 years after his death, when the unit of electromotive force (electric potential or voltage) was officially named “Volt” in his honor.

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I am a Professional Electrical Engineer with a Masters Degree in Business Administration. My interest is in Power Quality, Diagnostic Testing and Protective Relaying. I have been working in an electric distribution utility for more than a decade. I handle PQ studies, power system analysis, diagnostic testing, protective relaying and capital budgeting for company projects.