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

Voltaic Pile

Italian scientist Alessandro Volta was the first to recognize key principles of electrochemistry, and applied those principles to the creation of the first battery.

In 1800, Volta built what became known as the voltaic pile by alternating disks of zinc and copper sandwiching a pasteboard or leather moistened with brine or vinegar. The disks were placed on a wooden base and supported by three glass rods. Each three-disk unit functioned as a single electric cell that produced a current due to an electrochemical reaction in which zinc loses electrons and copper gains them.

Take a look at the example here:


  1. The pile shown has 6 electric cells made up of a copper disc, a salt-soaked pasteboard and a zinc disk.
  2. Adjust the slider to add or remove stacks of 5 electric cells.
  3. Note the increase in voltage on the attached voltmeter as cells are added

The cells constructed by Volta each produced about one volt, a measurement of electromotive force that was named in his honor.

Volta’s invention of the pile was a momentous scientific breakthrough, providing the first continuous source of electric current to a circuit, and enabling many other advances.