The invention of the electrochemical cell.

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invention
  • The Italian scientist Luigi Galvani discovered that if two metals were connected to a frog’s leg, the leg would move. A popular legend states that while Galvani was conducting an experiment on static electricity by rubbing a dead frog’s leg, his assistant touched an exposed nerve of the frog with a metal scalpel that had accumulated static charge and the frog’s leg moved. He called this electricity “animal electricity” as he wrongly believed that the electricity came from the muscle in the frog’s pelvis. Here is a photograph of the experiment he conducted later on in 1780 to prove his false “animal electricity” theory:

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Galvani connected two different pieces of metal (usually iron and bronze or iron and silver) and the frog’s legs moved.

 

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  • Another Italian scientist Alessandro Volta, who was a huge admirer of Galvani, argued that “animal electricity” did not exist and that it was because of the dissimilar (different) metals used in the experiment that produced the electricity and that the movement of the frogs leg was just an indicator that electricity was present. Volta recreated Galvani’s experiment but this time he connected similar metals and the frog’s legs did not move . Volta created the first electrochemical cell in 1800 by sandwiching pieces of cardboard (that were soaked in salt water or acid) between metals. Here is a photograph of the “Voltaic cell”:

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The cardboard soaked in salt water acted like the frog’s legs. Metals such as copper and zinc sandwiched the soaked cardboard and produced a steady stream of current. Although the way the cell worked was not completely understood, it still powered most of 19th century’s electrical industry.

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