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The National MagLab is funded by the National Science Foundation and the State of Florida.

1775 - 1799

Scientists take important steps toward a fuller understanding of electricity, as well as some fruitful missteps, including an elaborate but incorrect theory on animal magnetism that sets the stage for a groundbreaking invention.


  • Capacitance and resistance
  • English chemist and physicist Henry Cavendish develops the concepts of capacitance and resistance, though most of his work with electricity is not published until the late nineteenth century.


  • Making static electricity
  • Alessandro VoltaItalian physicist Alessandro Volta invents a machine for generating static electricity, which he calls an electrophorus. The term also comes to be applied to the similar device created by Johannes Wilcke a decade earlier.


  • Lichtenberg figures
  • German professor Georg Christoph Lichtenberg discovers that unusual patterns, which later come to be known as Lichtenberg figures, can be produced by electrifying fern spores or other fine powders and dusting them upon a surface that carries the opposite charge.


  • Animal magnetism
  • Anton Mesmer, a German physician, establishes a magnetic healing practice based on his theories of animal magnetism in Paris after being accused of fraudulent activity in Vienna.


  • State changes
  • Renowned chemist Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier of France demonstrates that the conversion of liquids or solids into gases results in electrification.



  • Powerful electrostatic generator
  • Martin Van Marum of Holland constructs a much more powerful electrostatic machine than had ever been built before and carries out a variety of experiments with electricity.



  • Animal electricity proposed
  • Luigi GalvaniUniversity of Bologna anatomy professor Luigi Galvani reports his observations made over the course of 11 years on the effect of metal probes on the leg muscles of dissected frogs in the essay Commentary on the Effect of Electricity on Muscular Motion. He mistakenly attributes the muscular contractions he witnesses to an innate force he dubs animal electricity.


  • Animal electricity debunked
  • When carrying out experiments with metals placed in his mouth similar to those of Johann Sulzer, Italian physicist Alessandro Volta first believes he is experiencing the effects of animal electricity, but then finds that he can produce a current in the absence of animal tissue by utilizing a piece of cardboard moistened with brine instead of his tongue. Accordingly, he infers that the effect is incited by touching dissimilar metals to a moist object.