It provides the energy that our TV remote control needs, but what do we know about this battery that makes our lives so much easier? And by the way, where does the word “battery” come from?
Heap of laundry or electric battery, despite appearances, these expressions have a common origin. Strictly speaking, a stack is an arrangement of elements placed one on top of the other to form a column. The term “stack” comes from the Latin “pila”, which means column. But it is precisely the electric battery that interests us here: What is the relationship between this battery and a pile of objects? For understanding, let’s go back to the origin of the circulation of electricity. In 1786, an Italian physicist and anatomy professor, Luigi Galvani (1737-1798), observed that certain metals in contact with the leg nerve of a living frog elicited a reaction similar to an electric shock. The hypothesis of an “animal electricity” secreted by the brain is already of interest to specialist publications.
Volta and the disk stacking technique
A few years later, another Italian physicist, fascinated by electrostatic phenomena, came to clarify Galvani’s conclusions. This is Alessandro Volta (1745-1827). Volta came up with the idea of replacing the frog’s leg with a cloth soaked in salt water, demonstrating that several types of media can serve as conductors for an electrical discharge. Volta notably demonstrates that it is possible to create electric circuits by stacking zinc and silver discs alternately with felt discs soaked in salt water or acid. So he just invented the principle of the electric battery. Convinced of the importance of his find, on March 17, 1800 he published an article addressed to the French head of state, a certain Napoleon Bonaparte.
The crucial turning point of the voltaic column
The success of Volta’s stack quickly crosses borders. Dynamic electricity takes precedence over static electricity. The first stack has almost 600 discs and is almost 1.5 meters long. In short, an electric battery is an energy converter. It converts chemical energy into usable electrical energy. Like any electrical generator, a battery has positive and negative terminals, electromotive force, and internal resistance. The other property of the battery is its depletion: once the potential of the electrodes is reached, it cannot be restored. And the term “accumulator” is therefore a misuse of language, it actually designates an electrical accumulator.