Luigi Galvani

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Luigi Galvani
Luigi Galvani, oil-painting.jpg
Portrait of Galvani at the Palazzo Poggi
Born(1737-09-09)9 September 1737
Died4 December 1798(1798-12-04) (aged 61)
Bologna, Papal States
Known forBioelectricity (animal electricity)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Bologna

Luigi Galvani (/ɡælˈvɑːni/, also US: /ɡɑːl-/;[1][2][3][4] Italian: [luˈiːdʒi 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 and his wife Lucia Galeazzi Galvani discovered that the muscles of dead frogs' legs twitched when struck by an electrical spark.[5]: 67–71  This was one of the first forays into the study of bioelectricity, a field that studies the electrical patterns and signals from tissues such as the nerves and muscles.

Early life[edit]

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.[6] Domenico was a goldsmith.[6]

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.[7]

Galvani vs. Volta[edit]

Electrodes touch a frog, and the legs twitch into the upward position[8]

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 specific electricity intrinsic to the 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.[7]

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.[9]

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.[7]


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 peacefully surrounded by his mother and father, in his brother’s house depressed and in poverty, on 4 December 1798.[7]


Galvani's legacy includes:

Galvani-related landmarks in Bologna[edit]

Luigi Galvani's monument in Piazza Luigi Galvani (Luigi Galvani Square), in Bologna

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.”[10]


  • De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari commentarius(in Latin), 1791. The Institute of Sciences, Bologna.
  • De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari (in Latin). Modena: Società tipografica. 1792.
  • Memorie sulla elettricità animale (in Italian). Bologna: Clemente Maria Sassi. 1797.
  • [Opere] (in Italian). Bologna: Emidio Dall'Olmo. 1841.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Galvani". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.). HarperCollins. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
  2. ^ "Galvani". Collins English Dictionary. HarperCollins. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
  3. ^ "Galvani, Luigi" (US) and "Galvani, Luigi". Oxford Dictionaries UK English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. n.d. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
  4. ^ "Galvani". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
  5. ^ Whittaker, E. T. (1951), A History of the Theories of Aether and Electricity. Vol 1, Nelson, London
  6. ^ a b Heilbron 2003, p. 323.
  7. ^ 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. PMID 9739000. S2CID 13035403.
  8. ^ David Ames Wells, The science of common things: a familiar explanation of the first, 323 pages (page 290)
  9. ^ Luigi Galvani – IEEE Global History Network.
  10. ^ "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[edit]