ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Photons To Electrons

In 1839, French physicist Edmond Becquerel first noticed that under certain circumstances, sunlight shining on an electrode could create a weak electrical charge. Other scientists dabbled with this photovoltaic process, but it was not until 1954 that researchers at what was then Bell Laboratories in Holmdel, N.J., created a solar cell using crystalline silicon, the same substance used in computer chips. Solar research received a boost from the space program, which saw the conversion of sunlight

Tom Abate
In 1839, French physicist Edmond Becquerel first noticed that under certain circumstances, sunlight shining on an electrode could create a weak electrical charge. Other scientists dabbled with this photovoltaic process, but it was not until 1954 that researchers at what was then Bell Laboratories in Holmdel, N.J., created a solar cell using crystalline silicon, the same substance used in computer chips. Solar research received a boost from the space program, which saw the conversion of sunlight into electricity as a way to power satellites. Photovoltaics received its next burst of interest and funding during the oil embargo and energy crisis of the mid-1970s. Though photovoltaic research lost the spotlight--and much of its federal support--during the Reagan administration, work has continued and today is on the verge of commercial viability.

Simply put, the photovoltaic effect occurs when a photon strikes an electron, and knocks it out of orbit. The free electron...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?
ADVERTISEMENT