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This Flash animation depicts the function of two types of solar cell systems: a silicon-based cell and a dye-sensitized cell.  Both systems convert light energy to electrical energy, but the structure is quite different. The silicon-based cell is a solid-state semiconductor that employs two crystalline silicon layers between metal conducting strips. The dye-sensitized cell consists of a layer of titanium dioxide nanoparticles bonded to a layer of organic dye, and immersed in an electrolyte solution. Both systems excite electrons, which are directed to conducting strips and flow through a wire as electric current.

Please note that this resource requires Flash.
Editor's Note: For teachers doing a unit on photovoltaics, this animation will help students visualize what happens at the atomic scale as captured photons are converted to electric current in the solar cell. They can also see that there's more than one way to excite an electron!
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Classical Mechanics
- Work and Energy
Electricity & Magnetism
- Electromagnetic Radiation
= Electromagnetic Spectrum
- Electromotive Force and Current
= Cells and Batteries
- Semiconductors and Tubes
= Semiconductors
General Physics
- Properties of Matter
Modern Physics
- Nanoscience
Other Sciences
- Chemistry
- High School
- Middle School
- Lower Undergraduate
- Instructional Material
= Activity
- 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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Free access
This material is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license. Additional information is available.
Rights Holder:
SRI International
NSF Number:
clean energy, electromagnetic radiation, energy conversion, energy transformation, green energy, light energy, nanotechnology, photon, photon excitation, photovoltaic cell, photovoltaics, solar energy
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created April 19, 2013 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
August 12, 2013 by Lyle Barbato

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

3. The Nature of Technology

3A. Technology and Science
  • 9-12: 3A/H4. Engineers use knowledge of science and technology, together with strategies of design, to solve practical problems. Scientific knowledge provides a means of estimating what the behavior of things will be even before they are made. Moreover, science often suggests new kinds of behavior that had not even been imagined before, and so leads to new technologies.

4. The Physical Setting

4E. Energy Transformations
  • 9-12: 4E/H1. Although the various forms of energy appear very different, each can be measured in a way that makes it possible to keep track of how much of one form is converted into another. Whenever the amount of energy in one place diminishes, the amount in other places or forms increases by the same amount.
4F. Motion
  • 9-12: 4F/H6c. The energy of waves (like any form of energy) can be changed into other forms of energy.
4G. Forces of Nature
  • 9-12: 4G/H4d. Semiconducting materials differ greatly in how well they conduct electrons, depending on the exact composition of the material.
  • 9-12: 4G/H8. The motion of electrons is far more affected by electrical forces than protons are because electrons are much less massive and are outside of the nucleus.

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/H8. Sunlight is the ultimate source of most of the energy we use. The energy in fossil fuels such as oil and coal comes from energy that plants captured from the sun long ago.

11. Common Themes

11A. Systems
  • 9-12: 11A/H2. Understanding how things work and designing solutions to problems of almost any kind can be facilitated by systems analysis. In defining a system, it is important to specify its boundaries and subsystems, indicate its relation to other systems, and identify what its input and output are expected to be.
11B. Models
  • 6-8: 11B/M4. Simulations are often useful in modeling events and processes.
11C. Constancy and Change
  • 9-12: 11C/H12. Even though a system may appear to be unchanging when viewed macroscopically, there is continual activity of the molecules in the system.
11D. Scale
  • 6-8: 11D/M3. Natural phenomena often involve sizes, durations, and speeds that are extremely small or extremely large. These phenomena may be difficult to appreciate because they involve magnitudes far outside human experience.

This resource is part of a Physics Front Topical Unit.

Topic: Conservation of Energy
Unit Title: Energy Transformation

For teachers doing a unit on photovoltaics, this Flash animation will help students visualize what happens at the atomic scale as captured photons are converted to electric current in the solar cell. Toggle between two types of solar cells: the traditional silicon semiconductor and the newer dye-sensitized cell. Kids will see that there's more than one way to excite an electron.

Link to Unit:
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Record Link
AIP Format
(SRI International, Menlo Park, 2008), WWW Document, (https://nanosense.sri.com/activities/cleanenergy/solarcellanimation.html).
NanoSense: Solar Cell Animation (SRI International, Menlo Park, 2008), <https://nanosense.sri.com/activities/cleanenergy/solarcellanimation.html>.
APA Format
NanoSense: Solar Cell Animation. (2008). Retrieved May 22, 2024, from SRI International: https://nanosense.sri.com/activities/cleanenergy/solarcellanimation.html
Chicago Format
SRI International. NanoSense: Solar Cell Animation. Menlo Park: SRI International, 2008. https://nanosense.sri.com/activities/cleanenergy/solarcellanimation.html (accessed 22 May 2024).
MLA Format
NanoSense: Solar Cell Animation. Menlo Park: SRI International, 2008. 22 May 2024 <https://nanosense.sri.com/activities/cleanenergy/solarcellanimation.html>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {NanoSense: Solar Cell Animation}, Publisher = {SRI International}, Volume = {2024}, Number = {22 May 2024}, Year = {2008} }
Refer Export Format

%T NanoSense: Solar Cell Animation %D 2008 %I SRI International %C Menlo Park %U https://nanosense.sri.com/activities/cleanenergy/solarcellanimation.html %O application/flash

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source %D 2008 %T NanoSense: Solar Cell Animation %I SRI International %V 2024 %N 22 May 2024 %9 application/flash %U https://nanosense.sri.com/activities/cleanenergy/solarcellanimation.html

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Citation Source Information

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

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NanoSense: Solar Cell Animation:

Accompanies NanoSense: Clean Energy: Converting Light Into Energy

This is the complete lesson plan which the Solar Cell Animation was developed to accompany (appropriate for high school).

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