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published by the Public Broadcasting Service and the WGBH Educational Foundation
written by Stephanie Viola Chasteen
How do solar panels convert sunlight into electricity? This interactive activity from NOVA takes the learner inside a virtual photovoltaic cell to see how two different layers of silicon work to establish an electric field, push electrons to metal conductor strips, and generate electricity.

Please note that this resource requires Flash.
Editor's Note: See Related Materials for a link to the NOVA video "Saved By the Sun", highly recommended by the editors as a foundation for understanding the key role that solar energy could play in meeting global energy demands.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Classical Mechanics
- Work and Energy
= Conservation of Energy
Electricity & Magnetism
- Semiconductors and Tubes
= Semiconductors
Other Sciences
- Environmental Science
Thermo & Stat Mech
- First Law
= Heat Transfer
- High School
- Middle School
- Graduate/Professional
- Lower Undergraduate
- Informal Education
- Upper Undergraduate
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Tutorial
- Audio/Visual
= Movie/Animation
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- AP Physics
- Activity
- New teachers
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Intended Users:
General Public
Access Rights:
Free access
© 2007 WGBH Educational Foundation
climate literacy, energy, green energy, photovoltaic, solar cell, solar energy, solar power, solar radiation, solar technology
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created August 15, 2012 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
September 28, 2012 by Caroline Hall
Last Update
when Cataloged:
September 27, 2007

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

3. The Nature of Technology

3C. Issues in Technology
  • 9-12: 3C/H6. The human ability to influence the course of history comes from its capacity for generating knowledge and developing new technologies—and for communicating ideas to others.

4. The Physical Setting

4B. The Earth
  • 9-12: 4B/H8. The earth has many natural resources of great importance to human life. Some are readily renewable, some are renewable only at great cost, and some are not renewable at all.
4E. Energy Transformations
  • 6-8: 4E/M4. Energy appears in different forms and can be transformed within a system. Motion energy is associated with the speed of an object. Thermal energy is associated with the temperature of an object. Gravitational energy is associated with the height of an object above a reference point. Elastic energy is associated with the stretching or compressing of an elastic object. Chemical energy is associated with the composition of a substance. Electrical energy is associated with an electric current in a circuit. Light energy is associated with the frequency of electromagnetic waves.
  • 6-8: 4E/M6. Light and other electromagnetic waves can warm objects. How much an object's temperature increases depends on how intense the light striking its surface is, how long the light shines on the object, and how much of the light is absorbed.
4G. Forces of Nature
  • 6-8: 4G/M4. Electrical circuits require a complete loop through which an electrical current can pass.
  • 9-12: 4G/H4ab. In many conducting materials, such as metals, some of the electrons are not firmly held by the nuclei of the atoms that make up the material. In these materials, applied electric forces can cause the electrons to move through the material, producing an electric current. In insulating materials, such as glass, the electrons are held more firmly, making it nearly impossible to produce an electric current in those materials.
  • 9-12: 4G/H4d. Semiconducting materials differ greatly in how well they conduct electrons, depending on the exact composition of the material.

8. The Designed World

8C. Energy Sources and Use
  • 6-8: 8C/M5. Energy from the sun (and the wind and water energy derived from it) is available indefinitely. Because the transfer of energy from these resources is weak and variable, systems are needed to collect and concentrate the energy.
  • 9-12: 8C/H6. The useful energy output of a device—that is, what energy is available for further change—is always less than the energy input, with the difference usually appearing as thermal energy. One goal in the design of such devices is to make them as efficient as possible—that is, to maximize the useful output for a given input.
ComPADRE is beta testing Citation Styles!

Record Link
AIP Format
S. Chasteen, (Public Broadcasting Service, Arlington, 2007), WWW Document, (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/how-solar-cell-works.html).
S. Chasteen, NOVA: How Do Solar Panels Work? (Public Broadcasting Service, Arlington, 2007), <https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/how-solar-cell-works.html>.
APA Format
Chasteen, S. (2007, September 27). NOVA: How Do Solar Panels Work?. Retrieved May 28, 2024, from Public Broadcasting Service: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/how-solar-cell-works.html
Chicago Format
Chasteen, Stephanie Viola. NOVA: How Do Solar Panels Work?. Arlington: Public Broadcasting Service, September 27, 2007. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/how-solar-cell-works.html (accessed 28 May 2024).
MLA Format
Chasteen, Stephanie Viola. NOVA: How Do Solar Panels Work?. Arlington: Public Broadcasting Service, 2007. 27 Sep. 2007. 28 May 2024 <https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/how-solar-cell-works.html>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Author = "Stephanie Viola Chasteen", Title = {NOVA: How Do Solar Panels Work?}, Publisher = {Public Broadcasting Service}, Volume = {2024}, Number = {28 May 2024}, Month = {September 27, 2007}, Year = {2007} }
Refer Export Format

%A Stephanie Viola Chasteen %T NOVA:  How Do Solar Panels Work? %D September 27, 2007 %I Public Broadcasting Service %C Arlington %U https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/how-solar-cell-works.html %O application/flash

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source %A Chasteen, Stephanie Viola %D September 27, 2007 %T NOVA:  How Do Solar Panels Work? %I Public Broadcasting Service %V 2024 %N 28 May 2024 %8 September 27, 2007 %9 application/flash %U https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/how-solar-cell-works.html

Disclaimer: ComPADRE offers citation styles as a guide only. We cannot offer interpretations about citations as this is an automated procedure. Please refer to the style manuals in the Citation Source Information area for clarifications.

Citation Source Information

The AIP Style presented is based on information from the AIP Style Manual.

The APA Style presented is based on information from APA Style.org: Electronic References.

The Chicago Style presented is based on information from Examples of Chicago-Style Documentation.

The MLA Style presented is based on information from the MLA FAQ.

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NOVA: How Do Solar Panels Work?:

Is Part Of NOVA: Saved by the Sun

A link to the 53-minute NOVA video Saved By the Sun, which may be freely viewed in Flash format.

relation by Caroline Hall
Supplements TeachEngineering: Zero-Energy Housing

Multi-day lab activity for Grades 7-0 that explores principles of passive solar design:  students design/construct a 70-square-inch passive solar "house".

relation by Caroline Hall
Supplements Dayton Regional STEM Center: Warm Home Solar Style

An 8-day Project-Based Learning module for Grades 9-12 introduces the basics of passive and solar energy through hands-on investigations.

relation by Caroline Hall
Same topic as TryEngineering: Solar Structures

A standards-based unit for Grades 5-8. Learners build a structure that uses passive solar design to regulate temperature. Includes lesson, content support, and assessment.

relation by Caroline Hall

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