In the mid-1780s, anatomist Luigi Galvani (Bologna, Italy) was studying the effects of atmospheric electrical discharge. One day, in his garden, he fastened brass hooks between the spinal cord of a dissected frog and an iron railing. To his amazement the frog’s legs began twitching wildly, not only when lightning flashed, but also when the sky was calm. Galvani chose to interpret this observation (incorrectly) as “animal electricity”. His papers on the subject ignited research among the elite scientists of Europe, inspired pseudo-science “lectures” such as the one described on the 1804 era poster depicted here, and even influenced 20th century works of fiction such as the Frankenstein movies. The most significant consequence of Galvani’s discovery was the concept of “Galvanism” which refers to the production of electrical current from the contact of two metals in a moist environment.
The first battery (“Crown of Cups”) was developed by Allessandro Volta (Como, Italy) in 1796 as part of a series of experiments which refuted “animal electricity”. His “Voltaic Pile” was a landmark invention and was quickly improved by a series of developments throughout the 19th century, exemplified by the work of Becquerel, Daniell, Grove and others. Battery research today is undergoing a renaissance as products such as cellular phones, laptop computers, handheld games and portable medical devices depend on lightweight, reliable and long-lasting batteries.
By the early twentieth century, the concept of electroanalytical chemistry emerged as electrocapillary measurements were conducted with dropping mercury electrodes. The advent of polarography, as pioneered by Jaroslav Heyrovsky, initiated rapid development of electroanalysis, culminating in powerful new techniques such Osteryoung, Square Wave Voltammetry.
Although this calendar is by no means a comprehensive history, it does include some of the most influential members in the fraternity of electrochemists. Most of them did not consider themselves to be electrochemists, or even chemists. Physicians, engineers, natural philosophers and physicists predominate. As we move towards a new millenium, the uses of electrochemistry continue to flourish. Microelectrodes probe single cells, and fuel cells orbit the earth. We hope this calendar pays adequate homage to those scientists from Galvani to Heyrovsky, whose insights set us on the paths we follow to this day.
These original current-voltage-curves depicting the reduction of fructose were monitored by a photographically-recording polarograph. The handwriting is Heyrovsky’s.
Acknowledgements: Production of this site "The History of Electrochemistry" would not have been possible without the information was found in the "1997 Calendar" published by Bioanalytical Systems, Inc., 2701 Kent Avenue, West Lafayette, Indiana 47906 USA.