(February 18, 1745 – March 5, 1827)
Alongside intelligence and perspicacity, opportunities and accidents are integral parts of discoveries (in both arts and sciences). Alessandro Volta was an experimenter who capitalized on what eluded others. His fame stemmed from the fact that he deciphered what his compatriot, Luigi Galvani, could not. Galvani noticed that electricity was generated when different metals were connected to the muscles of a dead frog. However, he misinterpreted it by alluding that the animal generated the current. Volta, on the other hand, realized that it was an electrolytic phenomenon: facilitated by the electrodes (i.e. those metals) and the electrolyte (i.e. the aqueous substances in the frog’s tissues). To buttress his point, he went ahead and replicated similar process without using animal tissues. He replaced those tissues with brine (i.e. concentrated sodium chloride solution) as electrolyte, and determined that silver and zinc are effective electrodes for this particular electrolyte. This invention heralded what we know today as batteries. And Volta deservedly received credits for developing the first electrical cell (called voltaic cell then, and battery nowadays). From cars to aircrafts, and from cameras to cellphones, the importance of batteries cannot be overemphasized. They brought Volta so much plaudits that many are unaware of his other accomplishments. For example, he was the first to identify and isolate methane. Impressed by his achievements, Napoleon Bonaparte made him a count and a senator of his native Lombardy. Among other items, the 8208 Volta asteroid, and 123-kilometer-wide Volta lunar crater (north of Galvani), are named after him.