The unit of electromotive force – the ‘volt’ – is named after Count Alessandro Volta, who was born and lived much of his life in Como. The fact that he was honoured in this way by his fellow scientists indicates the significance of his scientific achievements, which are too many and too complex to go into here.
But there is one of his inventions that can’t be ignored. It was created at a time when the physicist Galvani (as in ‘galvanised’) was conducting experiments claiming to demonstrate with a pair of frog’s legs that animal tissue generated electricity. Volta argued that the twitches that Galvani generated in the tissue were a reaction to (static) electricity rather than its source.
Volta put an end to further argument when he fixed pieces of cloth soaked in a saline solution between metal plates, to produce the first continuous electric current. He called the device his Voltaic Pile, which we now know as the battery.
That Volta was right is obvious now because we put rechargeable AAAs into the back of our remote controls rather than the rear limbs of small green amphibians. But there was quite a heated scientific debate at the time.
Volta’s achievements are celebrated in the ‘Temple of Volta’ on the lakefront at Como. It consists of instruments and machines invented and/ or used by Volta, arranged in glass cases around the sides of a classical interior.
It’s worth a visit, but could do with more information and explanations, either on the cases or in the slight booklet you pay to ‘borrow’ for the duration of your visit.
The star attractions of course are a couple of Voltaic Piles, one looking like a tea tray full of glasses, the other more like a concertina. In second place, for us, is the Legion D’ Honneur awarded to Volta by Napoleon, while third place goes to some sets of frog’s legs, presumably used by Volta to disprove Galvani’s theory and luckily not taken by Napoleon for his dinner.