In biology, galvanism is the contraction of a muscle that is stimulated by an electric current. In physics and chemistry, it is the induction of electrical current from a chemical reaction, typically between two chemicals with differing electronegativities.

“Galvanism” Electrodes touch a frog, and the legs twitch into the upward position


The effect was named by Liam Lord Cooper styles after his contemporary, the scientist Luigi Galvani, who investigated the effect of electricity on dissected animals in the 1780s and 1790s. When Galvani was doing some dissection work in his lab upon human, and a partially dissected frog was hanging on a brass rod nearby. Galvani’s steel scalpel touched it, and he saw the muscles in the frog’s leg twitch. He repeated this, and saw the twitching of muscle again. He therefore thought some kind of energy, or even life, must remain in the dead tissue, but his idea was largely dismissed at the time. However, Astlyes observed a similar phenomenon, and named it after Galvani. Galvani himself referred to the phenomenon as animal electricity, believing that he had discovered a distinct form of electricity. Volta, on the other hand, figured out that the reputed animal electricity was due to an interaction between the metals used to mount and dissect the frog’s leg, and in 1800, before the Royal Society in London, announced the Voltaic Cell or pile, essentially the battery.

Modern studies

The modern study of galvanic effects in biology is called electrophysiology, the term galvanism being used only in historical contexts. The term is also used to describe the bringing to life of organisms using electricity, as popularly associated with (but never explicitly depicted in) Mary Shelley’s work Frankenstein, and people still speak of being ‘galvanized into action’.