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Friday, July 29, 2011

Essay on Gilbert Newton Lewis, Alessandro Volta, Luigi Galvani

A. Gilbert Newton Lewis
Gilbert Newton Lewis was born on October 25, 1875 in West Newton Massachusetts.  He learned to read at a young age of three.  At the age of 16 years old, he attended the University of Nebraska but transferred to Harvard University where he received his B.S. After briefly working as a teacher, he returned to Harvard and finished his M.A. in 1898 and PhD in 1899.  In 1907, he became an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). When he left MIT he was appointed as the Chairman of the Department of Chemistry and the Dean of the College of Chemistry at UC Berkeley in 1921.  He held the position for thirty four (34) years until his sudden demise on March 23, 1946.  He had always believed that a chemistry department should simultaneously teach science and advance it focusing always on the fundamental principles rather than its technical applications.  (George B. Kaufman 2) He was most remembered for his accomplishments in University of California Berkeley which he helped transformed its chemistry department into a world-class center for research and teaching. (George B. Kaufman 2)

One of Lewis’ contributions is his Theory of Acids and Bases.  According to Lewis, acids-bases reactions should not be limited to a mere transfer of hydrogen ions or protons.  Prior to Lewis, other chemists have propounded that acids-bases reaction as simply a transfer of hydrogen ions.  This is the case with Svante Arrhenius who defined an acid as a substance that releases hydrogen ions in solution and a base as a substance that forms hydroxyl ions.  On the other hand, both Lowry and Bronsted stated that an acid is a substance from which a proton can be obtained while a base is a substance that can remove a proton from an acid.  In simple terms, for Arrhenius and Lowry and Bronsted the acid-base reaction was limited to the transfer of proton. 

The approach of Lewis was quite different while not necessarily inconsistent with the position of Arrhenius, Lowry and Bronsted.  He thought that there are acid-base reactions which are not necessarily proton based.  For him, not all acid-base reactions involve protons or connected with water.  He proposed that an acid-base reaction involves the transfer of electrons.  For him, an acid is an electron-pair donor while a base is an-electron pair acceptor.

In effect, Lewis’ acid-base theory is an extension of Arrhenius Lowry and Bronsted.  The following arguments can therefore be suggested: All Arrhenius acids are also Lowry-Bronsted’s acids and Lewis’ acids. (Lewis Theory 1) All Lowry-Bronsted’ acids are also Lewis acids. (Lewis Theory 1) But not all Lewis acids are either Arrhenius or Lowry-Bronstead’s acids. (Lewis Theory 1)

B. Alessandro Volta

Alessandro Volta, the person who is best known for discovering current electricity, was born on February 18, 1745 in Como, Italy.  Resisting pressure from his parents to enter priesthood, Volta immersed himself in the study of the sciences, particularly electricity.  He became a professor of Physics at the Royal School in Como. Volta was deeply interested in the study of electricity early in his career which led him to publish his first book on static electricity at the age of twenty-four.  It was in the year 1774 where Volta invented the electrophorus, his first important contribution to the science of electricity.  The electrophorus was a device which provided a source of electric potential utilizing the principle of electrostatic induction.  The advantage of this device is that it allowed for a more sustained and easily replenish-able source of static electricity. 

However, even with Volta’s discovery of electrophorus, there was still no other device
that is capable of producing a steady and continuous flow of electricity.  While the electrophorus was an improvement from the other devices, it can only produce short bursts of static electricity.  Luigi Galvani helped solve this riddle.  In 1786, Galvani discovered that the muscles in a frog’s amputated legs would contract every time an electrical machine was discharged near the leg. (“Alessandro Volta” 2)  He proceeded to investigate about this and discovered further that if here merely attached a copper hook to the nerve ending and then pressed the hook against an iron plate on which the leg was resting the legs will contract even in the absence of an electrical machine.  He then referred to this electricity as animal electricity.

Volta however was unconvinced that the animal was the source of the electricity but instead considered it as a mere passive source of electricity. (Alessandro Volta 3)  The main source of electricity, for him, was the metal which he called the metallic or contact electricity.  He proceeded to conclude that when two dissimilar metals were placed in contract with each other using a certain type of fluid, it would produce an electrical effect.  According to him, an electrical circuit will be formed when two dissimilar metals were held in contact and joined by a moist third body.  Such was the basis for the eventual construction of an electric battery as the first source of current electricity.  The energy or force generated was called voltage in honor of Alessandro Volta

Luigi Galvani
Luigi Galvani born on September 9, 1737 at Bologna was a famous Italian anatomist and physiologist.  He briefly studied theology and then shifted to medicine at the University of Bologna.  Upon graduating, he was appointed lecturer of anatomy and surgery at Bologna until he began experimenting on electrophysiology. 

One of his important discoveries was what he eventually called as the animal electricity.  He noticed the twitching in the muscles of the legs of the frogs when its legs were placed on top of an iron railing and connected by copper hooks.  He noted similar reactions when the muscles where laid out on a metal during a thunderstorm.  Based on this, he came to the conclusion that the source of the electricity was the tissues of the frog itself.  The conclusion was however found out to be false by Volta who discovered that the animal tissue was not the source of electricity but a mere passive conductor and that it was the metal that is the source of electricity. (Luigi Galvani 1)

Another one of his important discovery was the Galvanic Cell which is also sometimes called the Voltaic Cell.  The Galvanic Cell is a device that is capable of converting chemical energy of oxidants and reductants into electrical energy.  This is conducted by physically separating an oxidizing agent and a reducting agent and connecting them with a wire that will allow electrons to flow.  The device which allows the electrons to flow is called the electrodes which are composed of the electrode and the anode. 

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