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Luigi Galvani
Luigi Galvani.
1737 - 1798.

Luigi Galvani was born in Bologna, Italy, on September 9, 1737. It was his original intention to study theology and to enter a monastic order. His family, however, persuaded him to abandon that idea and he attended Bologna's medicine school to become a medical doctor just like his father. After graduation he was appointed lecturer in anatomy at the University of Bologna and, at the age of twenty-five, Chair of Obstetrics at the Institute of Arts and Sciences.

Following the acquisition of an electrostatic machine (a device for making sparks) and a Leyden jar (a device used to store static electricity), Luigi Galvani began experimenting with muscular stimulation by electrical means. Through numerous observations and experiments Luigi caused muscular contraction in a frog by touching its nerves with electrostatically charged metal. Later, he was able to cause muscular contraction by touching the nerve with different metals without a source of electrostatic charge. He concluded that animal tissue contained an innate vital force, which he termed "animal electricity." He believed this to be a new form of electricity in addition to the "natural" form that produced lightning and to the "artificial" form that is produced by friction (i.e., static electricity). He also believed the brain secreted an "electric fluid" and that the flow of this fluid through the nerves provided a stimulus for the muscle fibers. This led to discussions with Volta and an argument between the two, in regards to the source or cause of the electricity. Volta built the first battery from pieces of brass and iron, to specifically disprove his associate's theory. Voltas' "pile" became known therefore as a voltaic pile. However, in another experiment, Galvani caused muscular contraction by touching the exposed muscle of one frog with the nerve of another and thus established for the first time that bioelectric forces exist within living tissue.

Galvanis' remarkable experiments helped to establish the basis for the biological study of neurophysiology and neurology. The paradigm shift was complete: nerves were not water pipes or channels, as Descartes and his contemporaries thought, but electrical conductors. Information within the nervous system was carried by electricity generated directly by the organic tissue. As the result of the experimental demonstrations carried out by Luigi Galvani and his followers, the electrical nature of the nerve-muscle function was unveiled. However, a direct proof could only be made when scientists could be able to measure or to detect the natural electrical currents generated in the nervous and muscular cells. Galvani did not have the technology to measure these currents, because they were too small.

In 1764 he married Lucia, the only daughter of the professor at the University of Bologna. She died in 1790 at age 47.

Galvani held his Chair of Obstetrics for 33 years but was dismissed in 1797 following the occupation of the country by the Napoleonic army. Being a man of integrity, he refused to take the oath of allegiance required of him by the invader. He died the on December 4 the following year in Bologna, aged 61.

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