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Shocking FrogsGalvani, Volta, and the Electric Origins of Neuroscience$
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Marco Piccolino and Marco Bresadola

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199782161

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199782161.001.0001

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A “Fortunate” Discovery

A “Fortunate” Discovery

Galvani’s Theory of Animal Electricity

(p.108) 5 A “Fortunate” Discovery
Shocking Frogs

Marco Piccolino

Marco Bresadola

Nicholas Wade

Oxford University Press

This chapter reconstructs the final stage of Galvani’s electrophysiological investigation, which led him to the publication of his theory of animal electricity. The final model of the muscle as an “animal Leyden jar” emerged from a tortuous path, characterized by Galvani’s ability to exploit the results coming from different research programmes such as the study of the role of “airs” (the 18th century term for gases) in the living bodies and the investigation of the effects of different forms of electricity on nerves and muscles. Between 1786 and 1791 Galvani elaborated several versions of his explanation of nerve conduction and muscular contraction, which varied with the progress of the experiments performed during this period as well as on reflections concerning electric fishes and tourmaline. The final version of his theory of animal electricity was formulated in 1791 and published in De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari, a major contribution in the history of science.

Keywords:   pneumatics, leyden jar, animal electricity, tourmaline, metal arcs, atmospheric electricity

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