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Voltage and batteries, Alessandro Volta

Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta was born to a noble family in Como, a town in northern Italy, on February 18, 1745. In 1774, he became a professor of physics at the Royal School. A year later, he improved and popularized the electrophorus, a device that produced static electricity. He discovered methane in November 1776 at Lake Maggiore, and by 1778 he managed to isolate the gas, and experiment with it. 

Volta also studied what we now call electrical capacitance, separating electrical potential (V) and charge (Q), and discovering that for a given object, they are proportional. For this work the unit of electrical potential has been named the ‘volt’.

In 1779, he invented the voltaic pile, an electric battery, which produced a steady electric current using a chemical reaction. This was the first continuous reproducible source of electrical current in history. 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. The result is credited as the first electrochemical cell.

Volta retired in 1819 to his estate in Camnago, a village close to Como, now named "Camnago Volta" in his honor. He died there on March 5, 1827, at the age of 82.