Aldini, Glovanni

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Aldini, Glovanni

(b. Bologna, Italy, 10 April 1762; d. Milan, Italy, 17 January 1834)


The most significant single event in the history of the development of electricity was the discovery by Alessandro Volta in 1797 of the continuous-flow electric current from a voltaic pile. Next in importance to Volta stood Luigi Galvani, the uncle of Giovanni Aldini.

In the controversy over Galvani’s “animal electricity” and Volta’s “galvanic current,” it was not the modest Galvani but his lusty nephew who wrote, lectured and published in Italian, French, and English on the theories and experiments of both his uncle and himself. Aldini added notes and commentary to the second edition of Galvani’s important De viribus electircitatis in motu Musculari (1792). An ardent partisan of his uncle’s cause, he followed this supplement with De animale electricitale, dissertatione duae (1794) and his best-known work, Essai théorique et expérimentale sur le galvanisme (1804). This appeared in two volumes and also, in the same year, as a single quarto volume dedicated to Napoleon. The Dissertatione duae resulted from Alidini’s galvanice experiments, including those on warm-blooded animals and generally followed suggestions made by Galvani. A paper on the results of these experiments was read before the Academia della Scienze di Bologna; an English translation appeared in 1803 and a French one in 1804.

While Galvani (with one exception) remained silent during the growing controversy over the true nature of his animal electricity, the effervescent Aldini became his uncle’s champion–so much so that Volta addressed his arguments to Aldini instead of Galvani. Aldini also probably joined Galvani in the preparation of the anonymous Dell’uso e dell’attività dell arco conduttore (1794). This contained an important experiment intended to demonstrate the contraction of a dissected frog’s leg without the use of any metal, with established the existence of electrical forces within living tissue. Early in 1803 he attempted to determine the velocity of an electric current across the harbor of Calais.

Aldini became professor of physics at the University of Bologna in 1794 and earnestly investigated galvanism. He helped organize a society at Bologna to foster the practices of galvanism in opposition to a Volta society established at the University of Pavia. In 1802 Aldini lectured before the Société Galvanique of Paris and in the following year demonstrated galvanic action in England. Some of his more dramatic experiments involved motion in the anatomical members of a just-executed murderer and induced muscular contraction in dissected parts of sheep, oxen, and chickens. His final writings concered lighthouses, fire fighting, and quarrying. For hit work he was knighted by the emperor of Austria and made concillor of state in Milan.


Aldini’s first known writing is his contribution of a notes and commentary to the second edition of Galvani’s De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari (Modena, 1792). He and Galvani probably prepared the anonymous Dell’uso e dell’attivié dell’arco conduttore (Bologna, 1794). Other works by Aldini are De animate electricitate, dissertatione duae (Bologna, 1794)and Essai thèorique et expèrimentale sur le galvanisme (Paris, 1804).

Bern Dibner