Galvani, The Effects of Artificial Electricity on Muscular Motion


In the 1790s, the Italian Luigi Galvani carried out a series of electrical experiments that became known as galvanism. With a spark from an electrostatic generator, he produced a twitching movement in the muscles of a dead frog. As his research progressed, he was able to produce the same effect on a dog and expressed an interest in experimenting on a human. This is a rare first edition of notes by Galvani, detailing his experiments.

Earlier experiments in the 1760s had determined that muscular activity in the bodies of frogs could be caused externally. Galvani’s experiments in the 1780s led from the chance touching of a scalpel to the lumbar nerves of a frog at the same time a spark was caused by electrical apparatus. The combination produced convulsive contractions of the frog’s muscles. There may have been a completion of an electrical circuit or perhaps contact between the scalpel and another metal (the hook holding the frog’s body in position) generated enough electricity to stimulate the muscles. Galvani considered the possibility that the muscles retained some kind of innate electricity, a fluid within the nerves, which he described as ‘animal electricity’. His experiments led later to a medical treatment known as galvanism, in which nerves are stimulated by the application of an electrical charge.

Full title:
Aloysii Galvani ... De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari commentarius. Cum Joannis Aldini dissertatione et notis. Accesserunt epistolæ ad animalis electricitatis theoriam pertinentes.
1792, Mutinæ, now known as Modena, Italy
Book / Illustration / Image
Luigi Galvani
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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