60 years ago a British science teacher was laughed off by his peers when he said the he could turn sunlight into electricity. He set out to prove them wrong, and after hours in his lab, created a device that used a mineral called selenium (a semi-conductor), to convert sunlight into energy- he had developed the world’s first solar panel.
Although the photovoltaic effect was first observed in 1839 by French Physicist Alexandre Becquerel, it was not until 1883, when Charles Fritts(an American inventor) built the first ever solar cell using selenium( a semi-conductor). Russel Ohl, an American engineer, is credited with creating the first ever silicon solar cell, in 1941.
The solar panel had been stored away for 60 years, all but forgotten until last year when a relative of the Professor came across the project. That’s not even the biggest news, since it was discovered that the equipment, which was built 60 years ago, still worked!
Selenium releases electrons when exposed to sunlight, and the panel channels these electrons to produce electricity. This is very similar to the process used by modern day solar panels, with the exception that solar panels today can generate electricity using indirect lighting in the environment rather than just direct sunlight. When exposed to direct sunlight, this solar panel can produce 1.5 volts of electricity; enough to operate a digital watch today.
The Professor could not have imagined the extent to which the same idea is being applied in modern-day green-energy endeavors. If only he could have seen the growing use of solar technology around the world today, he could have said to his colleagues: “who’s laughing now?’