Luigi Galvani

Luigi Aloisio Galvani (/ɡɑːlˈvɑːni/;[1] 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.[2]: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 muscles.

Galvani's wife Lucia Galeazzi Galvani encouraged his independent research, and served as a counselor and guide for his experiments until her death. Due to the conventions of the time she wasn't credited for any scientific work she may have done in the lab. She grew up with science and her father was a prominent member of the Bologna Academy of Science. [3]

Luigi Galvani
Luigi Galvani, oil-painting
Luigi Galvani; physician famous for pioneering bioelectricity
Born9 September 1737
Died4 December 1798 (aged 61)
Bologna, Papal States
Known forBioelectricity (animal electricity)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Bologna

Early life

Luigi Galvani Experiment.jpeg
Experiment De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari
Galvani frog legs experiment setup
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.[4] Domenico was a goldsmith,[4] 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.[5]

The beginning of Galvani's experiments with bioelectricity has a popular legend which says that the Galvani was slowly skinning a frog at a table where he and his wife 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 the Galvanis the first investigators 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 and his wife, on the suggestion of his peer and sometime intellectual adversary Alessandro Volta. Galvanis are 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 position[6]

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 parts. Volta believed that the contractions depended on the metal cable Galvani used to connect the nerves and muscles in his experiments.[5]

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.[7] 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 voltaic pile.

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.[5]

Galvani’s landmarks in Bologna

Bologna Statue of Galvani
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 central.

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.

Religious beliefs

Galvani, according to William Fox, was “by nature courageous and religious.” 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.”[8]

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 1798.[5]

Galvani's legacy includes:


  • De viribus electricitatis, 1791. The International Centre for the History of Universities and Science (CIS), Università di Bologna


  1. ^ "Galvani". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ Whittaker, E. T. (1951), A history of the theories of aether and electricity. Vol 1, Nelson, London
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b Heilbron 2003, p. 323.
  5. ^ a b c d Bresadola, Marco (15 July 1998). "Medicine and science in the life of Luigi Galvani". Brain Research Bulletin. 46 (5): 367–380. doi:10.1016/s0361-9230(98)00023-9.
  6. ^ David Ames Wells, The science of common things: a familiar explanation of the first, 323 pages (page 290)
  7. ^ Luigi Galvani – IEEE Global History Network.
  8. ^ "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Luigi Galvani". Retrieved 1 September 2014.


  • Heilbron, John L., ed. (2003). The Oxford Companion to the History of Modern Science. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199743766.

External links

1737 in science

The year 1737 in science and technology involved some significant events.

1798 in science

The year 1798 in science and technology involved some significant events.

Animal testing on frogs

Frogs have been used in animal tests throughout the history of biomedical science.

Eighteenth-century biologist Luigi Galvani discovered the link between electricity and the nervous system through studying frogs.


Bioelectrochemistry is a branch of electrochemistry and biophysical chemistry concerned with electrophysiological topics like cell electron-proton transport, cell membrane potentials and electrode reactions of redox enzymes.

Electrotherapy (cosmetic)

Cosmetic electrotherapy is a range of beauty treatments that uses low electric currents passed through the skin to produce several therapeutic effects such as muscle toning in the body and micro-lifting of the face. It is based on electrotherapy, which has been researched and accepted in the field of rehabilitation, though the "scientific and medical communities have tended to sideline or dismiss the use of electrotherapy for healthy muscles".The use of electricity in cosmetics goes back to the end of the 19th century, almost a hundred years after Luigi Galvani discovered that electricity can make the muscle in a frog's leg twitch (see galvanism). Subsequent research in electrophysiology has been carried out by people such as Robert O. Becker, Dr Björn Nordenström, a former chair of the Nobel Selection Committee for Medicine, and Dr Thomas Wing, who invented some of the first micro-current devices.

Eusebio Valli

Eusebio Valli (1755–1816) was a physician from Lari, Pisa, Italy, who in the shadows of Luigi Galvani and Alessandro Volta also studied the phenomenon of animal electricity or bioelectricity.

Frog galvanoscope

The frog galvanoscope was a sensitive electrical instrument used to detect voltage in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It consists of skinned frog's leg with electrical connections to a nerve. The instrument was invented by Luigi Galvani and improved by Carlo Matteucci.

The frog galvanoscope, and other experiments with frogs played a part in the dispute between Galvani and Alessandro Volta over the nature of electricity. The instrument is extremely sensitive and continued to be used well into the nineteenth century, even after electromechanical meters came into use.

Galvani potential

Galvani potential (also called Galvani potential difference, or inner potential difference, Δφ, delta phi) in electrochemistry is the electric potential difference between two points in the bulk of two phases. These phases can be two different solids (e.g., two metals joined together), or a solid and a liquid (e.g., a metal electrode submerged in an electrolyte).

Generally, the Galvani potential difference is measurable only when the two phases have identical chemical composition.The Galvani potential is named after Luigi Galvani.


Galvanic may refer to:


Galvanic cell

Galvanic skin response

Galvanic corrosion

Galvanic series

Galvanic bath

Galvanic anode

Galvanic isolation

Galvanic Vestibular Stimulation


Galvanic current

A form of electricity named after Luigi Galvani

Galvanic cell

A galvanic cell or voltaic cell, named after Luigi Galvani or Alessandro Volta, respectively, is an electrochemical cell that derives electrical energy from spontaneous redox reactions taking place within the cell. It generally consists of two different metals immersed in an electrolyte, or of individual half-cells with different metals and their ions in solution connected by a salt bridge or separated by a porous membrane.

Volta was the inventor of the voltaic pile, the first electrical battery. In common usage, the word "battery" has come to include a single galvanic cell, but a battery properly consists of multiple cells.


In biology, galvanism is the contraction of a muscle that is stimulated by an electric current. In physics and chemistry, it is the induction of electrical current from a chemical reaction, typically between two chemicals with differing electronegativities.


A galvanometer is an electromechanical instrument used for detecting and indicating an electric current. A galvanometer works as an actuator, by producing a rotary deflection (of a "pointer"), in response to electric current flowing through a coil in a constant magnetic field. Early galvanometers were not calibrated, but their later developments were used as measuring instruments, called ammeters, to measure the current flowing through an electric circuit.

Galvanometers developed from the observation that the needle of a magnetic compass is deflected near a wire that has electric current flowing through it, first described by Hans Christian Ørsted in 1820. They were the first instruments used to detect and measure small amounts of electric currents. André-Marie Ampère, who gave mathematical expression to Ørsted's discovery and named the instrument after the Italian electricity researcher Luigi Galvani, who in 1791 discovered the principle of the frog galvanoscope – that electric current would make the legs of a dead frog jerk.

Sensitive galvanometers have been essential for the development of science and technology in many fields. For example, they enabled long range communication through submarine cables, such as the earliest Transatlantic telegraph cables, and were essential to discovering the electrical activity of the heart and brain, by their fine measurements of current.

Galvanometers also had widespread use as the visualising part in other kinds of analog meters, for example in light meters, VU meters, etc., where they were used to measure and display the output of other sensors. Today the main type of galvanometer mechanism, still in use, is the moving coil, D'Arsonval/Weston type.

Giovanni Aldini

Giovanni Aldini (April 10, 1762 – January 17, 1834), was an Italian physicist born in Bologna. He was a brother of a statesman.

He became professor of physics at Bologna in 1798, in succession to his uncle Luigi Galvani (1737–1798). His scientific work was chiefly concerned with galvanism, anatomy and its medical applications, with the construction and illumination of lighthouses, and with experiments for preserving human life and material objects from destruction by fire. He wrote in French and English in addition to his native Italian. In recognition of his merits, the emperor of Austria made him a knight of the Iron Crown and a councillor of state at Milan, where he died. He bequeathed a considerable sum to found a school of natural science for artisans at Bologna.

Italian ship Luigi Galvani

Luigi Galvani or simply Galvani was the name of at least two ships of the Italian Navy named in honour of Luigi Galvani and may refer to:

Italian submarine Luigi Galvani, a Micca-class submarine launched in 1918 and discarded in 1938.

Italian submarine Galvani, a Brin-class submarine launched in 1938 and sunk in 1940.

Johann Schweigger

Johann Salomo Christoph Schweigger (8 April 1779 – 6 September 1857) was a German chemist, physicist, and professor of mathematics born in Erlangen.

J.S.C.Schweigger was the son of Friedrich Christian Lorenz Schweigger, professor of theologie in Erlangen (1786 until his death in 1802). He studied philosophy in Erlangen. His PhD involved the Homeric Question revived at that time by Friedrich August Wolf. Johann Tobias Mayer, Georg Friedrich Hildebrandt and Karl Christian von Langsdorf convinced him to switch to physics and chemistry and he lectured on this subjects in Erlangen until 1803 before taking a position as schoolteacher in Bayreuth and in 1811 in Nuremberg. During 1816-1819 he was appointed professor of philosophy in Erlangen teaching physics and chemistry. 1816 he was elected member of the Leopoldina. 1819 he moved on to the university of Halle.

In 1820 he built the first sensitive galvanometer, naming it after Luigi Galvani. He created this instrument, acceptable for actual measurement as well as detection of small amounts of electric current, by wrapping a coil of wire around a graduated compass. The instrument was initially called a multiplier.He is the father of Karl Ernst Theodor Schweigger and adopted one of his students Franz Wilhelm Schweigger-Seidel as his own son.

Llinás's law

Llinás's law, or law of no interchangeability of neurons, is a statement in neuroscience made by Rodolfo Llinás in 1989, during his Luigi Galvani Award Lecture at the Fidia Research Foundation Neuroscience Award Lectures .

A neuron of a given kind (e.g. a thalamic cell) cannot be functionally replaced by one of another type (e.g. an inferior ollivary cell) even if their synaptic connectivity and the type of neurotransmitter outputs are identical. (The difference is that the intrinsic electrophysiological properties of thalamic cells are extraordinarily different from those of inferior olivary neurons).

The statement of this law is a consequence of an article written by Rodolfo Llinas himself in 1988 and published in Science with the title "The Intrinsic Electrophysiological Properties of Mammalian Neurons: Insights into Central Nervous System Function", which is considered a watershed due to its more than 2000 citations in the scientific literature, marking a major shift in viewpoint in neuroscience around the functional aspect. Until then, the prevailing belief in neuroscience was that just the connections and neurotransmitters released by neurons was enough to determine their function. Research by Llinás and colleagues during the 80's with vertebrates revealed this previously held dogma was wrong.

Lucia Galeazzi Galvani

Lucia Galeazzi Galvani (3 June 1743, in Bologna – 1788) was an Italian scientist.

She was the daughter of anatomist Domenico Gusmano Galeazzi and Paola Mini. In 1762 she married the doctor Luigi Galvani, a professor at the University of Bologna from 1775. In 1772, the couple moved to their own home at Galeazzi, where her spouse established a laboratory for the studies of the reflexes of the animal anatomy. Lucia Galeazzi Galvani was active as the assistant in the experiments; the couple also collaborated with Antonio Muzzi. Galeazzi Galvani was active as the medical assistant of her husband in his work as a surgeon and obstetrician. She additionally edited her husband´s medical texts. She died of asthma.

She encouraged her husband's independent research and served as a counselor and guide for his experiments until her death. Due to the conventions of the time she wasn't credited for any scientific work she may have done in the lab. She grew up with science and her father was a prominent member of the Bologna Academy of Science.

Luigi Galvani Medal

The Luigi Galvani Medal is an award given by the Italian Chemical Society (Società Chimica Italiana). Named after pioneering Italian physicist Luigi Galvani, the prize was established in 1986 to recognize the work of foreign scientists in the field of electrochemistry.

St. Camillus College

St. Camillus College of Manaoag is an educational institution in Northern Luzon. It was established in the year 2001 by its Founder, Father Luigi Galvani, MI as a day care center serving poor children in the community and now has grown into a full-fledged college with curricular offerings from pre-elementary to college level. It is located at the Pilgrimage Town of Manaoag, Pangasinan, Philippines.

St. Camillus College of Manaoag (SCCM) is supervised by the Camillian Family Foundation (Inc.) in Manaoag which is the lay organization of the Congregation of Catholic Priests, Brothers and Sisters known as the Order of St. Camillus (OSC).

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