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Luigi Galvani
Portrait of Galvani at the Palazzo Poggi
Born(1737-09-09)9 September 1737
Died4 December 1798(1798-12-04) (aged 61)
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 studied animal electricity. In 1780, he discovered that the muscles of dead frogs' legs twitched when struck by an electrical spark.[5]: 67–71  This was an early study of bioelectricity, following experiments by John Walsh and Hugh Williamson.

Early life

Experiment De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari
Late 1780s diagram of Galvani's experiment on frog legs

Luigi Galvani was born to Domenico Galvani and Barbara Caterina Foschi, in Bologna, then part of the Papal States.[6] The house in which he was born may still be seen on Via Marconi, 25, in the center of Bologna.[7] Domenico was a goldsmith.[6] His family had produced several illustrious men.[7]

Galvani then began taking an interest in the field of "medical electricity". This field emerged in the middle of the 18th century, following electrical researches and the discovery of the effects of electricity on the human body by scientists including Bertrand Bajon and Ramón M. Termeyer [pl] in the 1760s,[8] and by John Walsh[9][10] and Hugh Williamson in the 1770s.[11][12]

Galvani vs. Volta

Electrodes touch a frog, and the legs twitch into the upward position[13]

Further information: Galvanism

Alessandro 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.[12]

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.[14]

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.[12]


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.[12]


Galvani's legacy includes:

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.”[15]


See also


  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". Lexico UK English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 2020-10-26.
  4. ^ "Galvani". 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 "Galvani and the Electrophysiology of Muscular Contraction". Circulation. 26: 11. 1962.
  8. ^ de Asúa, Miguel (9 April 2008). "The Experiments of Ramón M. Termeyer SJ on the Electric Eel in the River Plate Region (c. 1760) and other Early Accounts of Electrophorus electricus". Journal of the History of the Neurosciences. 17 (2): 160–174. doi:10.1080/09647040601070325. PMID 18421634.
  9. ^ Edwards, Paul (10 November 2021). "A Correction to the Record of Early Electrophysiology Research on the 250th Anniversary of a Historic Expedition to Île de Ré". HAL open-access archive. hal-03423498. Retrieved 6 May 2022.
  10. ^ Alexander, Mauro (1969). "The role of the voltaic pile in the Galvani-Volta controversy concerning animal vs. metallic electricity". Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences. XXIV (2): 140–150. doi:10.1093/jhmas/xxiv.2.140. PMID 4895861.
  11. ^ VanderVeer, Joseph B. (6 July 2011). "Hugh Williamson: Physician, Patriot, and Founding Father". Journal of the American Medical Association. 306 (1). doi:10.1001/jama.2011.933.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ David Ames Wells, The science of common things: a familiar explanation of the first, 323 pages (page 290)
  14. ^ Luigi Galvani – IEEE Global History Network.
  15. ^ "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Luigi Galvani". Retrieved 1 September 2014.