Editor selections by Topic and Unit

The Physics Front is a free service provided by the AAPT in partnership with the NSF/NSDL.

Detail Page

Item Picture
published by the WGBH Educational Foundation
This animated tutorial shows how photovoltaic cells in solar panels convert sunlight into electrical current. It provides a close-up look at each layer of the basic solar panel, with particular emphasis on how electrons cross over the junction that joins the two silicon layers in the cell. When the concentration of negative and positive charge between the two layers reaches equilibrium, an electric field is produced -- the solar cell is ready to capture photons. Teachers: This popular resource has been converted to HTML5. Run it on your mobile device or tablet!

Please note that this resource requires Flash.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Classical Mechanics
- Work and Energy
= Conservation of Energy
Education Practices
- Technology
= Multimedia
Electricity & Magnetism
- Electric Fields and Potential
= Electric Field
- Electromotive Force and Current
= Cells and Batteries
- High School
- Informal Education
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Interactive Simulation
- Audio/Visual
= Movie/Animation
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- AP Physics
- Lesson Plan
- Activity
- New teachers
  • Currently 0.0/5

Want to rate this material?
Login here!

Intended Users:
Access Rights:
Free access
© 2016 WGBH Educational Foundation
animations, clean energy, electric field, green energy, photovoltaics, renewable energy, renewable resource, solar cell, solar panel, solar radiation
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created August 21, 2012 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
January 6, 2018 by Caroline Hall

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

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.
4D. The Structure of Matter
  • 9-12: 4D/H1. Atoms are made of a positively charged nucleus surrounded by negatively charged electrons. The nucleus is a tiny fraction of the volume of an atom but makes up almost all of its mass. The nucleus is composed of protons and neutrons which have roughly the same mass but differ in that protons are positively charged while neutrons have no electric charge.
  • 9-12: 4D/H9b. Some atoms and molecules are highly effective in encouraging the interaction of others.
4E. Energy Transformations
  • 9-12: 4E/H7. Thermal energy in a system is associated with the disordered motions of its atoms or molecules. Gravitational energy is associated with the separation of mutually attracting masses. Electrical potential energy is associated with the separation of mutually attracting or repelling charges.
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.

This resource is part of a Physics Front Topical Unit.

Topic: Conservation of Energy
Unit Title: Renewable Energy Sources

How does a solar panel convert sunlight into electrical current? This interactive animation takes a close-up look at each layer of a basic photovoltaic cell to show how electrons are energized when sunlight strikes the cell.

Link to Unit:
ComPADRE is beta testing Citation Styles!

Record Link
AIP Format
(WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston, 2016), WWW Document, (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/how-solar-cell-works.html).
NOVA: How Do Solar Panels Work? (WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston, 2016), <https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/how-solar-cell-works.html>.
APA Format
NOVA: How Do Solar Panels Work?. (2016). Retrieved June 19, 2024, from WGBH Educational Foundation: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/how-solar-cell-works.html
Chicago Format
WGBH Educational Foundation. NOVA: How Do Solar Panels Work?. Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation, 2016. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/how-solar-cell-works.html (accessed 19 June 2024).
MLA Format
NOVA: How Do Solar Panels Work?. Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation, 2016. 19 June 2024 <https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/how-solar-cell-works.html>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {NOVA: How Do Solar Panels Work?}, Publisher = {WGBH Educational Foundation}, Volume = {2024}, Number = {19 June 2024}, Year = {2016} }
Refer Export Format

%T NOVA: How Do Solar Panels Work? %D 2016 %I WGBH Educational Foundation %C Boston %U https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/how-solar-cell-works.html %O text/html

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source %D 2016 %T NOVA: How Do Solar Panels Work? %I WGBH Educational Foundation %V 2024 %N 19 June 2024 %9 text/html %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.

This resource is stored in a shared folder.

You must login to access shared folders.

NOVA: How Do Solar Panels Work?:

Is Supplemented By Dayton Regional STEM Center: Warm Home Solar Style

Flash interactive, appropriate for Grades 9-12, depicts what happens at the atomic level when electrons encounter the two silicon layers of a solar photovoltaic cell.

relation by Caroline Hall
Same topic as TryEngineering: Here Comes the Sun

High school lab: students disassemble solar calculators to gain insight into how solar energy is collected and converted to electrical energy.

relation by Caroline Hall

Know of another related resource? Login to relate this resource to it.
Save to my folders



Related Materials

Similar Materials