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Concept: Voltaic pile


During the 1790s, Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), who showed an early interest in many facets of natural philosophy and natural history, delved into the controversial subject of galvanism and animal electricity, hoping to shed light on the basic nature of the nerve force. He was motivated by his broad worldview, the experiments of Luigi Galvani, who favored animal electricity in more than a few specialized fishes, and the thinking of Alessandro Volta, who accepted specialized fish electricity but was not willing to generalize to other animals, thinking Galvani’s frog experiments flawed by his use of metals. Differing from many German Naturphilosophen, who shunned “violent” experiments, the newest instruments, and detailed measurement, Humboldt conducted thousands of galvanic experiments on animals and animal parts, as well as many on his own body, some of which caused him great pain. He interpreted his results as supporting some but not all of the claims made by both Galvani and Volta. Notably, because of certain negative findings and phenomenological differences, he remained skeptical about the intrinsic animal force being qualitatively identical to true electricity. Hence, he referred to a “galvanic force,” not animal electricity, in his letters and publications, a theoretical position he would abandon with Volta’s help early in the new century.

Concepts: Fish, Battery, Galvanic cell, Alexander von Humboldt, Luigi Galvani, Alessandro Volta, Galvanism, Voltaic pile


An electrochemical device capable of manifesting reversible charge storage at the interface of an active layer offers formidable advantages, such as low switching energy and long retention time, in realizing synaptic behavior for ultralow power neuromorphic systems. Contrary to a supercapacitor-based field-effect device that is prone to low memory retention due to fast discharge, a solid electrolyte-gated ZnO thin-film device exhibiting a battery-controlled charge storage mechanism via mobile charges at its interface with tantalum oxide is demonstrated. Analysis via cyclic voltammetry and chronoamperometry uniquely distinguishes the battery behavior of these devices, with an electromotive force generated due to polarization of charges strongly dependent on the scan rate of the applied voltage. The Faradaic-type diffusion-controlled charge storage mechanism exhibited by these devices is capable of delivering robust enhancement in the channel conductance and leads to a superior ON-OFF ratio of 108-109. The nonvolatile behavior of the interface charge storage and slow diffusion of ions is utilized in efficiently emulating spike timing-dependent plasticity (STDP) at similar time scales of biological synapses and unveils the possibility of STDP behavior using multiple in-plane gates that alleviate additional requirement of waveform-shaping circuits.

Concepts: Electromagnetism, Electric charge, Electrochemistry, Memory, Zinc, Volt, Voltammetry, Voltaic pile


Herein, the correlation between electronic structure, transport and electrochemical properties of layered LixNi1-y-zCoyMnzO2 cathode material is revealed. Comprehensive experimental studies of physicochemical properties of LixNi1-y-zCoyMnzO2 cathode material (XRD, electrical conductivity, thermoelectric power) are supported by electronic structure calculations performed using the Korringa-Kohn-Rostoker method with the coherent potential approximation (KKR-CPA) to account for the chemical disorder. It is found that even small O defects (∼1%) could significantly modify electronic density of states DOS characteristics via the formation of extra broad peaks inside the former band gap leading to its substantial narrowing. The calculated DOS values and their changes near EF tend to support experimental findings with irregular changes in the sign of thermoelectric power as well as the behavior of electrical conductivity curves as a function of Li content. Furthermore, the variations of the electromotive force of the Li/Li(+)/LixNi1-y-zCoyMnzO2 cell (for 0 < x < 1) remains in a quite good agreement with the relative variation of EF on DOS calculated from the KKR-CPA method.

Concepts: Electromagnetism, Michael Faraday, Electrochemistry, Chemistry, Physical chemistry, Electronic band structure, Thermoelectric effect, Voltaic pile


A magneto-electrochemical cell and an electric double layer transistor (EDLT), each containing diluted [Bmim]FeCl4 solution, have been controlled by applying a magnetic field in contrast to the control of conventional field effect devices by an applied electric field. A magnetic field of several hundred mT generated by a small neodymium magnet is sufficient to operate magneto-electrochemical cells, which generate an electromotive force of 130 mV at maximum. An EDLT composed of hydrogen-terminated diamond was also operated by applying a magnetic field. Although it showed reversible drain current modulation with a magnetoresistance effect of 503%, it is not yet advantageous for practical application. Magnetic control has unique and interesting characteristics that are advantageous for remote control of electrochemical behavior, the application for which conventional electrochemical devices are not well suited. Magnetic control is opening a door to new applications of electrochemical devices and related technologies.

Concepts: Electromagnetism, Michael Faraday, Magnetic field, Maxwell's equations, Electric current, Magnetism, Faraday's law of induction, Voltaic pile


One-pot electroless galvanic cell deposition of a 3D hierarchical semiconductor-metal-semiconductor interlaced nanoarray is demonstrated. The fabricated 3D photoanode deviates from the typical planar geometry, aims to optimize effective surface area for light harvesting and long-range charge transfer-collection pathways.

Concepts: Cathode, Electrochemistry, Electrochemical cell, Anode, Galvanic cell, Electrolytic cell, Alessandro Volta, Voltaic pile


Here we report the first potentiometric sensor for soil moisture analysis by bringing in the concept of Galvanic cells wherein the redox energies of Al and conducting polyaniline are exploited to design a battery type sensor. The sensor consists of only simple architectural components and as such they are inexpensive and light weight making it suitable for on-site analysis. The sensing mechanism is proved to be identical to a battery type discharge reaction wherein polyaniline redox energy changes from the conducting to the non-conducting state with a resulting voltage shift in the presence of soil moisture. Un-like the state of the art soil moisture sensors, signal derived from the proposed moisture sensor is probe size independent as it is potentiometric in nature and hence can be fabricated in any shape or size and can provide consistent output signal in strongly aberration condition often encountered in soil moisture analysis. The sensor is regenerable by treating with 1 M HCl and can be used for multiple analysis with little read out hysteresis. Further, a portable sensor is fabricated which can pro-vide warning signals to the end user when the moisture levels in the soil go below critically low levels, thereby functioning as a smart device. As the sensor is inexpensive, portable and potentiometric, it opens up avenues for developing effective and energy efficient irrigation strategies, understanding the heat and water transfer at the atmosphere-land interface, under-standing soil mechanics, forecasting the risk of natural calamities and so on.

Concepts: Cathode, Electrochemistry, Zinc, Battery, Electrochemical cell, Anode, Galvanic cell, Voltaic pile


Iron fluoride cathodes have been attracting considerable interest due to their high electromotive force value of 2.7 V and their high theoretical capacity of 237 mA h g(-1) (1 e(-) transfer). In this study, uniform iron fluoride hollow porous microspheres have been synthesized for the first time by using a facile and scalable solution-phase route. These uniform porous and hollow microspheres show a high specific capacity of 210 mA h g(-1) at 0.1 C, and excellent rate capability (100 mA h g(-1) at 1 C) between 1.7 and 4.5 V versus Li/Li(+) . When in the range of 1.3 to 4.5 V, stable capacity was achieved at 350 mA h g(-1) at a current of 50 mA g(-1) .

Concepts: Time, Electromagnetism, Magnetic field, Rechargeable battery, Lithium, Lithium battery, Volt, Voltaic pile


After extensive experimentation during the 1790s, Alexander von Humboldt remained skeptical about “animal electricity” (and metallic electricity), writing instead about an ill-defined galvanic force. With his worldview and wishing to learn more, he studied electric eels in South America just as the new century began, again using his body as a scientific instrument in many of his experiments. As had been the case in the past and for many of the same reasons, some of his findings with the electric eel (and soon after, Italian torpedoes) seemed to argue against biological electricity. But he no longer used galvanic terminology when describing his electric fish experiments. The fact that he now wrote about animal electricity rather than a different “galvanic” force owed much to Alessandro Volta, who had come forth with his “pile” (battery) for multipling the physical and perceptable effects of otherwise weak electricity in 1800, while Humboldt was deep in South America. Humboldt probably read about and saw voltaic batteries in the United States in 1804, but the time he spent with Volta in 1805 was probably more significant in his conversion from a galvanic to an electrical framework for understanding nerve and muscle physiology. Although he did not continue his animal electricity research program after this time, Humboldt retained his worldview of a unified nature and continued to believe in intrinsic animal electricity. He also served as a patron to some of the most important figures in the new field of electrophysiology (e.g., Hermann Helmholtz and Emil du Bois-Reymond), helping to take the research that he had participated in to the next level.

Concepts: Electricity, Fish, Eel, Electric eel, Alexander von Humboldt, Luigi Galvani, Alessandro Volta, Voltaic pile