Happy Birthday, Batteries

Trivia question: Who’s birthday is it today?  The correct answers are:

A photograph of Volta's first-ever battery (which he called an "electric pile")

A photograph of Volta’s first-ever battery (which he called an “electric pile”)

1) ME
2) The chemical battery

Yes, on this day (March 20) in 1800, Alessandro Volta revealed the first chemical battery EVER.  He called it an “electric pile” because it was a stack of copper (Cu) and zinc (Zn) plates, separated with layers of a salt solution (called “brine” and probably sodium chloride, NaCl).

The solution had to be some kind of saltwater, and not pure water, because only saltwater (water with charged particles dissolved in it).

The invention of this electric-current-producing “pile” was that electrons could be “produced” at one end of the pile, and “absorbed” by the other end.  Placing a wire from one end to the other would allow electrons to flow through, and thus electricity was harnessed.

A schematic drawing of the pile.

A schematic drawing of the pile.

The invention of this battery opened the door for countless discoveries in chemistry: the separation of water into hydrogen and oxygen (a process called “electrolysis”); the discovery of barium, calcium, boron, strontium and magnesium (Source); and the field of electrochemistry as a whole.

Thanks Volta.  Your creative use of elements and chemicals allow batteries and electricity as we currently know it to exist.

Image credits:

Feature image of batteriesIllustration of electric pile and photo of Volta’s original electric pile are from Wikimedia Commons.


Added note: It turns out archaeologists have found batteries dated around 200 BC! They aren’t sure what they were used for, and they don’t believe that how they worked was understood back then, but they do work as batteries! You can read more about them here. In this post we are really saying, “Happy Birthday, ‘Modern’ Batteries”!

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