He was born February 18, 1745 in Como, a town in present-day northern Italy near the Swiss border.
Little is known of his childhood, other than he became a professor of physics at the Como Royal School in 1774.
One year later, in 1775, he improved and popularized the electrophorus, a device that produced static electricity.
His promotion of electrophorus was so extensive that he is often credited with its invention, even though a machine operating on the same principle was described in 1762 by Swedish experimenter Johan Wilcke.
History notes that between 1776 and 1778, he studied the chemistry of gases.
After reading a paper about “flammable air” authored by Benjamin Franklin, he began to search for the chemical responsible for this phenomenon.
Then, in November of 1776, he discovered methane and managed to isolate it by 1778.
He went on to devise experiments such as the ignition of methane by an electric spark in a closed vessel. He also studied what we now call electrical capacitance, developing separate means to study both electrical potential (V) and charge (Q), while discovering that for any given object, they are proportional.
This may not sound like much, however today we call Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta’s discovery “Volta’s Law of capacitance.
It is also likely that due to Alessandro Volta’s work, the unit of electrical potential has been named the volt.
Now, Volta did not stop there, he became a professor of experimental physics at the University of Pavia in 1779. In 1794, Volta married an aristocratic lady also from Como with whom he raised three sons.
Volta and Galvani
Luigi Galvani discovered something he named “animal electricity” when two different metals were connected in series with the frog’s leg and to one another.
Volta realized that the frog’s leg served as both a conductor of electricity (we would now call it an electrolyte) and as a detector of electricity.
Volta replaced the frog’s leg with brine-soaked paper, and detected that the flow of electricity was familiar to him from his previous studies.
In this way, Volta discovered the electrochemical series, and the law that the electromotive force (emf) of a galvanic cell, consisting of a pair of metal electrodes separated by electrolyte, is the difference between their two electrode potentials (thus, two identical electrodes and a common electrolyte give zero net emf).
This is what science calls today, Volta’s Law of the electrochemical series.
Ok, sounds boring right, well here comes his all important battery discovery.
In 1800, as the result of a professional disagreement over the galvanic response advocated by Galvani, Volta invented the voltaic pile, an early electric battery, which produced a steady electric current.
Volta had determined that the most effective pair of dissimilar metals to produce electricity was zinc and silver. Initially he experimented with individual cells in series, each cell being a wine goblet filled with brine into which the two dissimilar electrodes were dipped. The voltaic pile replaced the goblets with cardboard soaked in brine.
This battery made by Volta is credited as the first electrochemical cell. It consists of two electrodes: one made of zinc, the other of copper.
Last years and retirement
In honor of his work, Volta was made a count by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1801. Furthermore, his image was depicted upon the Italian 10,000 lira note (no longer in circulation, since the lira has been replaced by the euro) along with a sketch of his well-known voltaic pile.
Volta retired in 1819 to his estate in Camnago,a frazione of Como, Italy, now named “Camnago Volta” in his honor.
Alessandro Volta died there on March 5, 1827.
Volta’s legacy is celebrated by the Tempio Voltiano memorial located in the public gardens by the lake. There is also a museum which has been built in his honor, and it exhibits some of the original equipment that Volta used to conduct experiments.
Not far away stands the Villa Olmo, which houses the Voltian Foundation, an organization promoting scientific activities.
Modern day honors go to him for being the father of the electric automobile.
Toyota furnished the electric hybrid engine to Italian design house Giugiaro to build the Toyota Volta in 2003.
Later on Chevrolet, in 2011, was only able to use the name “Volt” to honor one of the world’s most ingenious inventors.
Now WE know em