Luigi Galvani

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Luigi Galvani

Luigi Galvani (Bologna, Italy, September 9, 1737-ibid, December 4, 1798) was an Italian physician, physiologist and physicist, his studies allowed him to decipher the electrical nature of the impulse nervous. He was a member of the Venerable Third Order (now called the Secular Franciscan Order).

Alessandro Volta.

Beginning about 1780, Galvani began to include in his lectures small practical experiments that showed students the nature and properties of electricity. In one of these experiences, the scientist showed that by applying a small electric current to the spinal cord of a dead frog, large muscle contractions occurred in its members. These shocks could make the legs (even separated from the body) jump just like when the animal was alive.

The doctor had discovered this phenomenon while dissecting a frog leg, his scalpel accidentally touched a bronze hook from which hung the leg. There was a small discharge, and the leg contracted spontaneously. Through repeated and consequent experiments, Galvani was convinced that what he saw were the results of what he called “animal electricity”. Galvani identified animal electricity with the life force that animated the frog’s muscles, and invited his colleagues to reproduce and confirm what he did.

This was the case at the University of Pavia, Galvani’s colleague Alessandro Volta, who stated that the results were correct but he was not convinced by Galvani’s explanation. The questioning of Volta made Galvani see that there was still much to be done. The main obstacle to his explanation was the ignorance of the reasons why the muscle contracted when receiving electricity. The obvious theory was that the nature of the nerve impulse was electrical, but it had to be demonstrated.

The physiologist called this way of producing energy “bioelectrogenesis”. Through numerous and spectacular experiments -such as electrocuting human corpses to make them dance the “dance of tonic convulsions” – he concluded that the necessary electricity did not come from outside, but was generated within the living organism itself, that, once dead, he still retained the ability to drive the impulse and react to it accordingly.

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