Life and Work
Alessandro Volta was born in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, in what was then the Austrian empire. Growing up in Como, he became interested in physics at an early age and by 24 had published his first article: “on the attractive force of the electric fire” despite never going to university. Volta went on to become a teacher to high school age students.
By 35 he was a professor of experimental physics at the University of Pavia, and was able to travel extensively before the outbreak of the Napoleonic wars. Volta became quite famous in his own lifetime having discovered methane and famously; the battery. He was also known for his electrically triggered pistol, one of his many inventions, which relied on principles that would form the basis for communications engineering.
Above all, the steady current flow of his battery allowed future generations of engineers and scientists to study electrochemistry and electromagnetism. Your earliest electrical experiment may well have been a lemon or potato battery, similar in many ways to the voltaic pile! In fact, Volta’s battery was invented to prove that there was no such thing as “Animal Electricity”, a concept that Galvani had landed on after discovering the battery-like effects of the leg of a dead frog between two metal connectors.
In 1801 another protégé of European Enlightenment, Napoleon Bonaparte made Volta a count in recognition of his discoveries, and established the Volta Prize in his honour. Enlightenment was a constant theme throughout Volta’s life, though his modern attitudes rarely found their way from his private life to the public eye. Volta retired to his estate in Como in 1819 and died in 1827.