Arc used by Galvani, late 18th century.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Luigi Galvani (1737-1798) discovered 'animal electricity' in the late 18th century. This demonstrated that nerves and muscles in animals function by tiny electrical currents, and can be stimulated by the application of electricity from outside. This discovery was taken up by society and electrical treatments were soon in great fashion, and were believed to be able to cure all manner of complaints, from gout to paralysis. The term 'galvanise' - to shock or excite into action - takes its name from Galvani.