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Batteries and Battery Monitoring – If it wasn’t for Frog Legs…

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February 18, 2015 – Happy 270th Birthday, Alessandro Volta.

What’s in a name?  Yes, the word “Volt” pays homage to Count Volta and his “Law of Capacitance”, which developed separate means to study both electrical potential (V ) and charge (Q ), and discovering that for a given object, they are proportional.  As a tribute to his discoveries, the unit of electrical potential has been named the volt.

But, what really sealed the deal for Alessandro Volta’s legacy was the invention of the electric battery.  If we look a bit deeper into the story, we realize the battery was created as a way to prove another scientist wrong.  And, frog legs were at the center of the disagreement.

As the story goes, in the early 1790’s, Luigi Galvani touched a frog leg with a scalpel charged with static electricity.  The slight electric charge caused the frog leg to move.  Galvani theorized that animals internally produced their own electricity.  From there, Galvani ran with his discovery of “Animal Electricity”, and accepted many kudos for his work.

Volta, on the other hand, set out to prove that the moist frog leg merely acted as both a conductor (electrolyte) and detector of the electric current.  He replaced the frog leg with brine-soaked paper and conducted tests using his own methods, while measuring the electric activity caused by two separate metals connected by the wet paper.

In 1800, as the way to disprove the galvanic response touted by Galvani, Volta created the voltaic pile, an early electric battery, which produced a steady electric current.

Volta further determined that the most effective pair of dissimilar metals to produce electricity were zinc and silver. Originally, he had conducted experimentation using a series of wine goblets filled with brine, with the two dissimilar metals dipped into the goblets. The voltaic pile replaced the goblets with cardboard soaked in brine.

From there, Mr. Volta eventually caught the attention of Napoleon Bonaparte and was bestowed the title of Count by the emperor in 1810.

His picture also adorned the 10,000 Lira note, until the euro replaced the Italian currency.

For the first time in history, Volta’s battery produced a steady source of electric current, thus opening the door to countless uses.  Without Volta’s invention, modern technology, as we now know it would have been severely thwarted. Volta’s battery was an irreplaceable invention in the ongoing advancement of our technology-based civilization.

Of course, because Volta invented the battery, and civilization embraced its power (literally) in all kinds of crucial ways, the need to monitor batteries was also required.  Therefore, battery monitoring, be it either hand-held devices, or automated 24/7 models owes its very existence to a disagreement over frog legs.

As Paul Harvey would say, “Now, you know the rest of the story.”

Happy birthday, Count Volta.