Galvani, Luigi

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Galvani, Luigi (1737-1798): Italian Scientist and Physician.

Originally trained in medicine, Luigi Galvani was Professor of Obstetrics at the University of Bologna. In his mid-forties, Galvani began his work on electricity, for which he became famous. Galvani undertook a variety of experiments on frogs that he argued provided evidence for the theory of animal electricity, which came to known as Galvinism as a result of his work.

By applying static electricity to the nerves and limbs of frogs by means of a scalpel, Galvani was able to produce muscular contractions at the same time that sparks were generated by the electrical apparatus that he employed. A meticulous researcher, Galvani changed experimental conditions and in a further series of experiments was able to generate similar results when the frog was separated from his electrical machine, by hanging frogs from wires during thunderstorms, and simply by touching two different metals together in the frog. On the basis of these experiments, Galvani maintained that sensation and motion were produced by electrical fluid in the muscles and nerves of animals.

Galvani published his results in 1791 in his Commentary on the Effects of Electricity on Muscular Motion. Though initially sympathetic to these findings, his great rival Alessandro Volta stirred considerable controversy when he eventually took issue with Galvani’s conclusions. Galvani died shortly before the refutation of his views by Volta.

Further Reading:

Patricia Fara, An Entertainment for Angels: Electricity in the Enlightenment, 2002.

Marcello Pera, The Ambiguous Frog: The Galvani-Volta Controvery on Animal Electricity, 1992.

Kevin E. Dodson