Work of Galvani, Volta, Davy and Faraday

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Describe the work of Galvani, Volta, Davy and Faraday in increasing understanding of electron transfer reactions

  • Luigi Galvani, Alessandro Volta, Humphry Davy, and Michael Faraday were all scientists whose work in the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries increased understanding of electron transfer reactions.
Time of main workIndividualRelationship to previous individualMajor contributions
Late 18th Century

Luigi Galvani

  • As part of his experiments on the effect of static electricity on frogs’ legs, Galvani observed that muscles would contract when two different metals formed a circuit with the muscle tissue.
  • Galvani incorrectly explained the electricity to be of animal origin, proposing that animal tissue contained an electric fluid.
Turn of 19th CenturyAlessandro Volta

Friend of Galvani
  • Volta repeated Galvani’s experiments and demonstrated that it was the wires in the solution, rather than animal tissue, that generated electric current.
  • He constructed the first galvanic cell, and later stacked cells to form what became known as ‘Volta’s pile’.
Early 19th CenturyHumphry Davy

  • Davy heard of the use of the voltaic pile by other scientists to decompose water, and developed a more powerful battery for further electrolytic research.
  • Davy isolated many metals using electrolysis, such as potassium, sodium and calcium.
  • He correctly reasoned that the electrical currents in the voltaic pile were generated by chemical changes.
Early- to mid-19th CenturyMichael Faraday

Originally Davy’s assistant
  • Faraday extended Davy’s experiments and developed quantitative laws (the laws of electrolysis) relating the charge transferred in decomposition to the amount of products produced.
  • He introduced the electrochemical nomenclature that is still in use today, such as the terms anion, cation, electrode and electrolyte.
  • The complete understanding of electron transfer reactions in terms of ions and electrons was not fully developed until the end of the nineteenth century.
  • The contribution of these four scientists allowed Arrhenius to later develop the ionic theory of solutions.
  • Arrhenius theory, coupled with Thomson’s discovery of the electron, allowed chemists to fully understand electron transfer electrons.