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The Shocking History of Electric FishesFrom Ancient Epochs to the Birth of Modern Neurophysiology$
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Stanley Finger and Marco Piccolino

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195366723

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195366723.001.0001

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Electric Fishes in Volta’s Path to the Battery

Electric Fishes in Volta’s Path to the Battery

(p.326) Chapter 22 Electric Fishes in Volta’s Path to the Battery
The Shocking History of Electric Fishes

Stanley Finger

Marco Piccolino

Oxford University Press

Alessandro Volta, the Italian physicist who would be celebrated for the invention of the electric battery (“Voltaic pile”), was Galvani's most influential and visible antagonist in the debate over whether electricity might exist in more than a few strange fish. In fact, the invention of the electric battery was an unexpected but fortuitous consequence of Volta's research on the debated subject of animal electricity. This chapter begins with Volta's initial forays into animal electricity, which would lead him to work on metallic electricity and his repeated assaults on Galvani's experiments and theories. The chapter then shows how Volta's obsession with weak electricity arising from different metals motivated him to find ways of multiplying the metallic force, culminating in the invention of the electric battery, an acknowledged wonder of the scientific Enlightenment and an invention with important past and future associations with electric fish.

Keywords:   Alessandro Volta, electric fishes, animal electricity, electric battery, weak electriciy

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