His tongue was his main tool

Alessandro Volta (Como, February 18, 1745 - Camnago, Como, March 5, 1827)

Alessandro Volta, the inventor of the battery, was born in Como, Italy. His father left only debts when he died. Three of Alessandro's brothers were priests and two of his sisters entered convents.

For many years it seemed as if the youngest child, little Alessandro, was retarded. At the age of four he still could not speak. At eight he was the smartest in the class, although he had no money to pay for his school books.

He had a talent for languages and by the age of sixteen spoke not only English, French and Spanish, but also Dutch, according to his biographers.

His real passion was in chemistry. He studied furiously, forgot to eat and neglected his clothes. Even at the height of his fame, Volta said he only ate to stay alive.

And his chambermaid had to secretly change his clothes because otherwise his master would keep walking around in the same old things for years.

As an adolescent, Volta corresponded with the entire scientific world of his time. At the age of 33 he was a professor in Pavia. He studied anything and everything: the bubbles of gas coming out of the swamp, for instance, or the electric shocks of the electric ray.

For two years he traveled throughout Western Europe and visited all the scientists who were dealing with the phenomenon of electricity in those days. In the Netherlands he visited Haarlem and Rotterdam, in Belgium Mechelen and Brussels.

Among other things, he devised an experiment in which he connected two strips of a different metal and then held one end to his tongue and the other to his eye. The flash of light that then arose continued to intrigue him.

blue and black can on black surfaceHe became convinced that a tension field arises between two different metals that causes electricity. His tongue was the only instrument he could use to measure the intensity of those stimuli. He ranked metals, took slices from the two extremes - zinc and silver, for example - and found that you could increase the voltage by stacking the number of slices on top of each other. He called these piles, separated by pieces of dust soaked in acid, pillars or columns; 48 pictures already gave a strong electric shock. So you could create a permanent electric current.

In 1800 he announced his invention. In a matter of months, the entire scientific world was turned upside down. Consul Napoleon Bonaparte invited him to Paris, where he was received as a real star.

On November 7, 12 and 22, 1801, more than two hundred years ago, the Italian magician showed his electrical arts in Paris. The mundane world was also away from him. The tall man with the noble allures received a large sum of money from Napoleon and the title of count.

But even that was not enough to keep him in Paris.

Volta was 56 at the time and just married. Knowing full well that the real work on electricity had yet to begin, he retired to his small estate Camnago, near Como, and devoted himself to his young family.

He had three sons and they absorbed all his attention. Before 1800 he had published more than eighty studies. Now his scientific work came to a standstill. Countless scholars thought it necessary to pay a visit to the famous count.

He received them very politely, and then revealed the great secret: he was no longer performing scientifically.

He died in 1827 at the age of 82. Como honored him with a large museum and a tomb, which can still be seen today on the beautiful lake. And a congress in Paris in 1881 gave its surname to the unit of electrical voltage.

So that the name of the special count also became commonplace outside the laboratories.

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