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Inside a Solar Cell
http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/ate10.sci.phys.energy.solarcell/

NOVA, Teachers' Domain

This set of six interactive slides showcases how a typical photovoltaic cell converts solar energy into electricity. Explore the components of a photovoltaic cell, including the silicon layers, metal backing, antireflective coating, and metal conductor strips. Using animations, investigate why the silicon layers are doped with phosphorous and boron, and how an electric field is used to generate electricity from sunlight.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Animation supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 3 Cross Cutting Concepts
High School: 7 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 2 Cross Cutting Concepts

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Educator should clarify how electrons flow into the electric current (i.e., between slides 5 and 6)

About the Science

  • Students learn how a typical photovoltaic cell converts solar energy into electricity and explore the components of a photovoltaic cell, including the silicon layers, metal backing, anti-reflective coating, and metal conductor strips.
  • Using animations, students investigate why the silicon layers are doped with phosphorous and boron and how an electric field is used to generate electricity from sunlight.
  • Comments from expert scientist: This is a nice illustration of the basic photovoltaic concept in wafer silicon cells.

About the Pedagogy

  • Slideshow is very easy to use as a teaching tool to help students visualize how photovoltaic cells on solar panels work. Link to original and other related articles found at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/how-solar-cell-works.html
  • A supporting background essay and discussion questions are available for this resource.
  • Students may need an introduction to electrons.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Background essay can be printed and downloaded. The interactive can be downloaded and saved as well.
  • There are no actual photos of a PV cell.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Animation supports:

Middle School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 2

MS-PS3.B2:The amount of energy transfer needed to change the temperature of a matter sample by a given amount depends on the nature of the matter, the size of the sample, and the environment.

MS-PS4.B1:When light shines on an object, it is reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through the object, depending on the object’s material and the frequency (color) of the light.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 3

Energy and Matter

MS-C5.1:Matter is conserved because atoms are conserved in physical and chemical processes.

MS-C5.3:Energy may take different forms (e.g. energy in fields, thermal energy, energy of motion).

MS-C5.4:The transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a designed or natural system.

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 7

HS-ESS3.A2:All forms of energy production and other resource extraction have associated economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical costs and risks as well as benefits. New technologies and social regulations can change the balance of these factors.

HS-PS3.B2:Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can be transported from one place to another and transferred between systems

HS-PS3.B4:The availability of energy limits what can occur in any system.

HS-PS3.D1:Although energy cannot be destroyed, it can be converted to less useful forms—for example, to thermal energy in the surrounding environment.

HS-PS3.D3:Solar cells are human-made devices that likewise capture the sun’s energy and produce electrical energy.

HS-PS4.B1:Electromagnetic radiation (e.g., radio, microwaves, light) can be modeled as a wave of changing electric and magnetic fields or as particles called photons. The wave model is useful for explaining many features of electromagnetic radiation, and the particle model explains other features.

HS-PS4.B3:Photoelectric materials emit electrons when they absorb light of a high-enough frequency

Cross Cutting Concepts: 2

Energy and Matter

HS-C5.2:Changes of energy and matter in a system can be described in terms of energy and matter flows into, out of, and within that system.

HS-C5.3:Energy cannot be created or destroyed—only moves between one place and another place, between objects and/or fields, or between systems.


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