Luigi Galvani

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Luigi Alyisio Galvani (September 9, 1737 – December 4, 1798) was an Italian physician and physicist who lived and died in Bologna. In 1771, he discovered that the muscles of dead frogs legs twitched when struck by a spark.[1] This was one of the first forays into the study of bioelectricity, a field that still today studies the electrical patterns and signals of the nervous system. He was cutting the frogs legs as an experiment trying to prove that a frog´s testicles were actually in their legs. He was quickly proved wrong by other biologists at the University of Pavia.

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Early life

At first he wished to enter the church, but he was educated by his parents for a medical career. Galvani attended Bologna's medical school and became a doctor, like his father. At the University of Bologna he was, in 1762, appointed public lecturer in anatomy, and gained a reputation as a skilled though not eloquent teacher, chiefly from his researches on the organs of hearing and genitourinary tract of birds, as a comparative anatomist.

He enunciated his celebrated theory of animal electricity in the treatise, De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari commentarius ("Commentary on the Force of Electricity on Muscular Motion") published in the seventh volume of the proceedings of the Institute of Sciences at Bologna in 1791, and separately at Modena in the following year. In 1764, he married Lucia Galleazzi, a daughter of a professor at the University of Bologna and a popular lady with high social status. In 1772 Galvani became president of the University.

According to popular version of the story, Galvani dissected a frog at a table where he had been conducting experiments with static electricity. Galvani's assistant touched an exposed sciatic nerve of the frog with a metal scalpel, which had picked up a charge. At that moment, they saw sparks and the dead frog's leg kick as if in life. The observation made Galvani the first investigator to appreciate the relationship between electricity and animation — or life. This finding provided the basis for the current understanding that electrical energy (carried by ions), and not air or fluid as in earlier balloonist theories, is the impetus behind muscle movement. He is poorly credited with the discovery of bioelectricity.

Galvani called the term animal electricity to describe the force that activated the muscles of his specimens. Along with contemporaries, he regarded their activation as being generated by an electrical fluid that is carried to the muscles by the nerves. The phenomenon was dubbed galvanism, after Galvani, on the suggestion of his peer and sometime intellectual adversary Alessandro Volta. Today, the study of galvanic effects in biology is called electrophysiology, the term galvanism being used only in historical contexts.

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