Though it is speculated that some ancient cultures may have used galvanic cells, the first confirmed electric cell battery was invented by Alessandro Volta in 1800. Volta, who was born 266 years ago today, initially experimented with frog corpses and external electrical sources, and noticed that he could make a dead frog’s legs “twitch”. Further experimentation aimed at yielding the same “twitching” without the external electrical source eventually led him to develop the galvanic cell. In 1800, when he piled many of these cells on top of each other, Volta was able to create a battery with about 50 volts per 32-cell pile.
It seems that just about all of today’s technology is “going wireless.” Batteries aren’t just reserved for our remote controls and toys anymore. They come in all shapes and sizes: primary batteries, secondary (or rechargeable) batteries, tiny hearing aid batteries, giant car batteries. Chris and I even have a huge forklift battery in our very own garage (the house’s original owner used it for backup power whenever the electricity went out)! It’s a little shocking how many battery-operated devices I can see right now just from my vantage point in the kitchen: the iPad I’m typing on, the telephone charging in it’s cradle, both of our cell phones, Chris’s MacBook, our Xbox remote, Xbox controllers, DirecTV Remote, DJ Hero and GuitarHero controllers, our mantle clock, Nikon camera, and wall clock. And, for a little while anyway, a small digital lemon-powered clock.
You read it right: to celebrate National Battery Day Chris and I built our own type of battery using lemons, copper wiring, galvanized nails, and electrician’s clips. It took a little reading, and checking out some pictures on the web, but our lemon battery worked and it’s still powering the itty-bitty digital clock I kept in my office at work until tonight. Though you can also create potato batteries, lemons work great because the acid in the lemons breaks down the atomic structure of the copper, causing it to release electrons. The released electrons flow freely between this positive electrode and the nail, which acts as a negative electrode. The bigger the difference in the electrodes, the faster the electrons move and the more energy you’ll get. Using more lemons, you can even power a light bulb!