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voltaic cell

voltaic cell, a simple device with which chemical energy is converted into electrical energy. Two dissimilar metals (e.g., copper and zinc) are immersed in an electrolyte (e.g., a dissolved sulfate). If the metals are connected by an external circuit, one metal is reduced (i.e., gains electrons) while the other metal is oxidized (i.e., loses electrons). In the example above, copper is reduced and zinc is oxidized. The difference in the oxidation potentials of the two metals provides the electric power of the cell. The voltaic cell is sometimes also called the galvanic cell. The names refer to the 18th-century Italian scientists Alessandro Volta and Luigi Galvani.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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