Luigi Aloisio Galvani (/ɡɑːlˈvɑːni/;
Italian: [ɡalˈvaːni]; Latin: Aloysius Galvanus; 9 September
1737 – 4 December 1798) was an Italian physician, physicist,
biologist and philosopher, who discovered animal electricity. He is
recognized as the pioneer of bioelectromagnetics. In 1780, he
discovered that the muscles of dead frogs' legs twitched when struck
by an electrical spark.:67–71 This was one of the first forays
into the study of bioelectricity, a field that still studies the
electrical patterns and signals from tissues such as the nerves and
1 Early life
2 Galvani vs. Volta
3 Galvani’s landmarks in Bologna
4 Religious beliefs
5 Death and legacy
9 External links
Experiment De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari
Late 1780s diagram of Galvani's experiment on frog legs
Luigi Galvani was born to Domenico and Barbara Caterina Foschi, in
Bologna, then part of the Papal States. Domenico was a
goldsmith, and Barbara was his fourth wife. His family was not
aristocratic, but they could afford to send at least one of their sons
to study at a university. At first Galvani wished to enter the church,
so he joined a religious institution, Oratorio dei Padri Filippini, at
15 years old. He planned to take religious vows, but his parents
persuaded him not to do so. Around 1755, Galvani entered the Faculty
of the Arts of the University of Bologna. Galvani attended the
medicine course, which lasted four years, and was characterized by its
"bookish" teaching. Texts that dominated this course were by
Hippocrates, Galen, and Avicenna.
Another discipline Galvani learned alongside medicine was surgery. He
learned the theory and the practice. This part of his biography is
typically overlooked, but it helped with his experiments with animals
and helped familiarize Galvani with the manipulation of a living body.
In 1759, Galvani graduated with degrees in medicine and philosophy. He
applied for a position as a lecturer at the university. Part of this
process required him to defend his thesis on 21 June 1761. In the
following year, 1762, he became a permanent anatomist of the
university and was appointed honorary lecturer of surgery. That same
year he married Lucia Galeazzi, daughter of one of his professors,
Gusmano Galeazzi. Galvani moved into the Galeazzi house and helped
with his father-in-law's research. When Galeazzi died in 1775, Galvani
was appointed professor and lecturer in Galeazzi's place.
Galvani moved from the position of lecturer of surgery to theoretical
anatomy and obtained an appointment at the Academy of Sciences in
1776. His new appointment consisted of the practical teaching of
anatomy, which was conducted by human dissection and the use of the
famous anatomical waxes.
As a "Benedectine member" of the Academy of Sciences, Galvani had
specific responsibilities. His main responsibility was to present at
least one research paper every year at the Academy, which Galvani did
until his death. There was a periodical publication that collected a
selection of the memoirs presented at the institution and was sent
around to main scientific academies and institutions around the world.
However, since publication then was so slow, sometimes there were
debates on priority of the topics used. One of these debates occurred
with Antonio Scarpa. This debate caused Galvani to give up the field
of research on which he had presented for four years in a row: the
hearing of birds, quadrupeds, and humans. Galvani had announced all of
the findings in his talks, but had yet to publish them. It is
suspected that Scarpa attended Galvani's public dissertation and
claimed some of Galvani's discoveries without crediting him.
Galvani then began taking an interest in the field of "medical
electricity". This field emerged in the middle of the 18th century,
following the electrical researches and the discovery of the effects
of electricity on the human body.
The beginning of Galvani's experiments with bioelectricity has a
popular legend which says that Galvani was slowly skinning a frog at a
table where he had been conducting experiments with static electricity
by rubbing frog skin. Galvani's assistant touched an exposed sciatic
nerve of the frog with a metal scalpel that had picked up a charge. At
that moment, they saw sparks and the dead frog's leg kicked as if in
life. The observation made Galvani the first investigator to
appreciate the relationship between electricity and animation—or
life. This finding provided the basis for the new understanding that
the impetus behind muscle movement was electrical energy carried by a
liquid (ions), and not air or fluid as in earlier balloonist theories.
Galvani coined the term animal electricity to describe the force that
activated the muscles of his specimens. Along with contemporaries, he
regarded their activation as being generated by an electrical fluid
that is carried to the muscles by the nerves. The phenomenon was
dubbed galvanism, after Galvani, on the suggestion of his peer and
sometime intellectual adversary Alessandro Volta. Galvani is properly
credited with the discovery of bioelectricity. Today, the study of
galvanic effects in biology is called electrophysiology, the term
galvanism being used only in historical contexts.
Galvani vs. Volta
Electrodes touch a frog, and the legs twitch into the upward
Volta, a professor of experimental physics in the University of Pavia,
was among the first scientists who repeated and checked Galvani’s
experiments. At first, he embraced animal electricity. However, he
started to doubt that the conductions were caused by a specific
electricity intrinsic to animal's legs or other body part. Volta
believed that the contractions depended on the metal cable Galvani
used to connect nerves and muscles in his experiments.
Volta's investigations led shortly to the invention of an early
battery. Galvani believed that the animal electricity came from the
muscle in its pelvis. Volta, in opposition, reasoned that the animal
electricity was a physical phenomenon caused by rubbing frog skin and
not a metallic electricity.
Every cell has a cell potential; biological electricity has the same
chemical underpinnings as the current between electrochemical cells,
and thus can be duplicated outside the body. Volta's intuition was
correct. Volta, essentially, objected to Galvani’s conclusions about
"animal electric fluid", but the two scientists disagreed respectfully
and Volta coined the term "Galvanism" for a direct current of
electricity produced by chemical action. Thus, owing to an argument
between the two in regard to the source or cause of the electricity,
Volta built the first battery in order to specifically disprove his
associate's theory. Volta's “pile” became known therefore as a
After the controversy with Volta, Galvani kept a low profile partly
because of his attitude towards the controversy, and partly because
his health and spirits had declined, especially after the death of his
wife, Lucia, in 1790.
Since Galvani was reluctant to intervene in the controversy with
Volta, he trusted his nephew, Giovanni Aldini, to act as the main
defender of the theory of animal electricity.
Galvani’s landmarks in Bologna
Luigi Galvani's monument in Piazza
Luigi Galvani (Luigi Galvani
Square), in Bologna
Galvani’s home in
Bologna has been preserved and can be seen in the
Galvani’s monument. In the square dedicated to him, facing the
palace of the Archiginnasio, the ancient seat of the University of
Bologna, a big marble statue has been erected to the scientist while
observing one of his famous frog experiments.
Liceo Ginnasio Luigi Galvani. This famous secondary school (liceo)
dating back to 1860 was named after Luigi Galvani.
Galvani, according to William Fox, was “by nature courageous and
Jean-Louis-Marc Alibert said of Galvani that he never
ended his lessons “without exhorting his hearers and leading them
back to the idea of that eternal Providence, which develops,
conserves, and circulates life among so many diverse beings.”
Death and legacy
Galvani actively investigated animal electricity until the end of his
life. The Cisalpine Republic, a French client state founded in 1797
after the French occupation of Northern Italy, required every
university professor to swear loyalty to the new authority. Galvani,
who disagreed with the social and political confusion, refused to
swear loyalty, along with other colleagues. This led to the new
authority depriving him of all his academic and public positions,
which took every financial support away. Galvani died in Bologna, in
his brother’s house, depressed and in poverty, on 4 December
Galvani's legacy includes:
Galvani's report of his investigations were mentioned specifically by
Mary Shelley as part of the summer reading list leading up to an ad
hoc ghost story contest on a rainy day in Switzerland—and the
resultant novel Frankenstein—and its reanimated construct. However,
there is no direct mention of electrical reanimation in Frankenstein.
Galvani's name also survives as a verb in everyday language
(galvanize) as well as in more specialized terms: Galvanic cell,
Galvani potential, galvanic corrosion, the galvanometer,
galvanization, and Galvanic skin response.
The crater Galvani on the
Moon is named after him.
The Società Chimica Italiana awards a medal to recognize the work of
R&D bioelectronics company Galvani
Bioelectronics is named after
De viribus electricitatis, 1791. The International Centre for the
History of Universities and Science (CIS), Università di Bologna
^ "Galvani". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
^ Whittaker, E. T. (1951), A history of the theories of aether and
electricity. Vol 1, Nelson, London
^ a b Heilbron 2003, p. 323.
^ a b c d Bresadola, Marco (15 July 1998). "Medicine and science in
the life of Luigi Galvani". Brain Research Bulletin. 46 (5):
^ David Ames Wells, The science of common things: a familiar
explanation of the first, 323 pages (page 290)
Luigi Galvani – IEEE Global History Network.
^ "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Luigi Galvani". Retrieved 1 September
Heilbron, John L., ed. (2003). The Oxford Companion to the History of
Modern Science. Oxford University Press.
Wikisource has the text of the 1913
Catholic Encyclopedia article
The dictionary definition of galvanize at Wiktionary
Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Galvani, Luigi". Encyclopædia
Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Media related to
Luigi Galvani at Wikimedia Commons
ISNI: 0000 0001 1029 5509
BNF: cb144246860 (data)