THE LEGACY OF GALVANI AND VOLTA IN CONTEMPORARY SCIENCE

In the occasion of the bicentenaries of the death of Luigi Galvani and of the invention of the pile by Alessandro Volta, the National Committees for the Galvani and Volta celebrations, together with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Italian Institutes of Culture abroad, several Universities and Academies of different nations, have agreed on a program of initiatives to illustrate the importance of the two Italian Scientists for their influence on the origin of electricity and on the subsequent developments of physical, biological and medical research. The initiatives include a travelling exhibition, seminars and activities related to the popularization of science.
The initiatives for North America will privilege modern research activities, even if ample space will be given to historical topics, while for European Institutes will be privileged the aspects related to the history and philosophy of science.
In the Institutes where the exhibition will be shown we anticipate seminar sessions of about two hours with four speakers, two local and two Italians: the topics will concern Galvani and Volta, their scientific results and their implications for modern science.
The exhibition "The legacy of Galvani and Volta in contemporary science" was conceived as a short historical-scientific itinerary: from the first experiments and discoveries of the two scientists and the dispute that they generated in the scientific world of their time, till the most recent researches and applications in physics and in biomedicine.
At the time of the dispute two parties were formed, the Galvanians and the Voltians; but it became later clear that both were right. It is true, as Galvani was saying, that animal and human organisms produce electric currents in their interior, as that which transmits the nervous impulses to the muscles. But it is also true, as Volta was saying, that the contact of two different metals yields an electrical potential, and combining different types of conductors Volta invented the pile. Volta, a physicist, was reducing everything to the properties of inert bodies; Galvani, the biologist, was trying to consider the structure of the living organisms. Today we are starting to have an "alliance" between biology and physics: for instance, we are observing the birth of bioelectronics, which uses organic molecules as if they were silicon chips and microcircuits.
The academic dispute between Galvani and Volta led to the birth of a new discipline (electrophysiology), to the discovery of the pile, to reliable sources of electricity and finally to the development of electromagnetism. In the long range the direct and indirect consequences are even greater: electricity is now everywhere and is conditioning the technological process, the biomedical applications increase continuously, the development of the applications of electromagnetic waves is influencing every day our style of life and of knowledge, the integration of computers with TV will do so even more, and finally we have a large transformation of the economy and of society.

Information on the exhibition:
View the panels