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2796.  Thu Dec 04, 2003 4:04 pm Reply with quote

Daniel - you're looking at this subject, I think. If you need a picture clue, this sounds promising:

A fresco painted in 1876 by Nicolò Barabino shows Volta presenting his battery to a large group of timeless natural philosophers (from Christopher Columbus to Joseph Michel Montgolfier). The battery is close to other technological tools. The scene is illuminated by a young woman (Science) at whose feet a dark figure (Obscurantism) lies defeated.

It's from a review of Volta: Science and Culture in the Age of Enlightenment by Giuliano Pancaldi. xx + 381 pp. Princeton University Press, 2003. $35


3125.  Thu Dec 11, 2003 7:40 am Reply with quote

In 1938, a German Archaeologist by the name of Wilhelm Konig discovered what has now become to be known as the Baghdad Battery. The battery itself is not terribly exciting. A replica model of the original was put to the test and only produced between 0.8 and 2 volts. Which really is only a bit more powerful than say, your average potato*.

What is exciting, however, is that the Battery dates back to around 200 BC. –Which would mean that the Battery was in fact invented 2000 years before it was thought to have been, when Volta produced one in 1800.
This suddenly makes the 0.8 to 2 volts current seem very incredible.

The battery is in fact a genuine primitive invention. Though it is not widely known what the battery was used for –The absence of wires from the excavation confuses scientists of its uses.

(In fact there is a fair bit of controversy as to the finding of the battery itself. Konig claims to have dug it up at a place called Khujut Rabu -Just ouside of Baghdad. Others believe he stumbled past it in a museum already on display.)

Some scientists believe that it was used to electroplate items, such as money. Others believe that it was used medicinally as a painkilling effect by placing it on the soles of feet. (Rather than using an Electric fish/eel, like the Greeks used to use.) While others believe that it is possible that the priests may have used it in the temples, wiring the battery up to a statuette of a God, then electrically shocking people who told lies when they touched the statuette.

* A potato Battery produces around half a volt.



3126.  Thu Dec 11, 2003 7:43 am Reply with quote

The Baghdad Battery is no bigger than 5 1/2 inches (13cm). It consists of a shell of Earthenware, and a stopper that is made up of Asphalt. In side it was some sort of Electrolyte solution – perhaps a Wine or Vinegar- and travelling down the inside centre of the vase shaped shelling of the battery, is an iron bar, which is, surrounded a copper cylinder.

To view a nice little diagram of it with labels, and drawn in a cartoonish manner, visit this site…..

3698.  Sat Dec 27, 2003 9:44 pm Reply with quote

Best pass discreetly over the Baghdad Battery debacle and point out that Volta's original experiment which led to the invention of the battery was to stick two hooks (one brass, the other steel) into a frog's leg, and to note that this caused the leg to twitch when the hooks were connected by a piece of wire. From this he concluded that two metals in an acid solution would deliver a continuous current.

Why he thought of conducting this experiment in the first place, I have no idea.

3704.  Sat Dec 27, 2003 10:30 pm Reply with quote

Could there be any connection there with works such as Frankenstein, which showed the monster being animated by lightning? This might have given Volta the idea of attempting to pass electricity through muscle tissue.

3715.  Sun Dec 28, 2003 12:11 am Reply with quote

Bound to be a connection, I would think, but the other way around. Frankenstein first published 1818, written a few years before that, I suppose. Volta's frog-bothering experiment 1800.

3719.  Sun Dec 28, 2003 10:56 am Reply with quote

Ah yes - for some reason I thought Volta was later than that. Frankenstein sprang from a story-telling session between Mary Wollestonecraft-Godwin, Shelley, Byron and Polidori on the shores of Lake Leman in the summer of 1816, when Mary was only 18, though I think Frankenstein was the only one ever to be published.

According to this website, it was the work of Galvani rather than Volta to stimulate the muscles of the frog leg:

September 9, 1737, was the birthdate of the man in whose work all this started. That man was Luigi Galvani, born in Bologna, Italy, and a distinguished lecturer in anatomy at the University of Bologna . Founded in the 11th century, this institution knew many scholars of note. Both Dante and Petrarch were students there. And Galvani, too, brought fame to his institution, primarily for his researches on the hearing organs and the urinogenital tract of birds. But his name is best remembered for his accidental discovery in the month of September, 1786, that it was possible to cause a direct or continuous flow of current along an electrical conductor by bringing two dissimilar metals into contact with a moist substance. Until then, all electricity had been produced as a spark. It was Galvani who led us to an understanding of the current or flow nature of electricity.

Specifically, he noted that sparks from an electric machine caused contractions in the leg of a frog he was dissecting. Subsequently he was able to produce the contractions by touching the nerve in t he leg with a zinc rod and the muscle with a copper one. The moisture was provided by the tissue itself. On another occasion, a moist and dissected frog's leg on a brass hook was hung against an iron trellis and the leg twitched. All of this he attribu ted to "animal electricity", and thus began one of the classic feuds in science. Another Italian scientist contended that Galvani had not discovered electricity of animal origin, but that he had caused the leg to respond to man-made electricity . That other scientist, who was Alessandro Volta, contended that Galvani had, in his use of three "elements" of two, i.e., metals and moisture, constructed a Voltaic pile, or battery. For such is the nature of the construction of batteries. T o prove his point against Galvani, he produced what are in fact these "piles" of alternate strips of differing metals separated by moisture, and provided us with a source of electricity.

Galvani died in Bologna in 1798. And it was not until some years later that Carlo Matteucci of Pisa and Emil Du Bois-Reymond of Berlin were able to prove conclusively by measuring the elctric currents that nerve and muscle cells actually possess electrical charge and are capable of generating an electric current.

Galvani published his findings in 1791 as De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari commentarius. The word "galvanized" and the galvanometer (which measures current in a conductor) derive from his work.

However, it may be the work of Galvani's nephew, Giovanni Aldini (176 2-1834), who apparently induced spasms in "the body of a malefactor executed at Newgate," that was better known to Mary Shelley and to Byron. He gave 'research performances' in France and in Britain in passing electricity through dead bodies, and published in 1803 a tome with the snappy title: An account of the late improvements in galvanism, with a series of curious and interesting experiments performed before the commissioners of the French National Institute, and repeated lately in the anatomical theatres of London, by John Aldini. To which is added An appendix, containing the author's experiments on the body of a malefactor executed at Newgate (London: Cuthell and Martin, and J. Murray, by Wilks and Taylor, 1803).

The experiment on the 'malefactor' is reported as follows:

The first of these decapitated criminals being conveyed to the apartment provided for my experiments, in the neighbourhood of the place of execution, the head was first subjected to the Galvanic action. For this purpose I had constructed a pile consisting of a hundred pieces of silver and zinc. Having moistened the inside of the ears with salt water, I formed an arc with two metallic wires, which, proceeding from the two ears, were applied, one to the summit and the other to the bottom of the pile. When this communication was established, I observed strong contractions in the muscles of the face, which were contorted in so irregular a manner that they exhibited the appearance of the most horrid grimaces. The action of the eye-lids was exceedingly striking, though less sensible in the human head than in that of an ox.

Byron wrote in Don Juan (published in 1819) that "Galvanism has set some corpses grinning..." It seems likely then, that Mary Shelley had come across this work.


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