Monthly Archives: September 2011

Learning How Solar Cells Work

Summer is winding down and the kids are back in school, presumably learning some good stuff. But I always try to take advantage of good opportunities to teach my own kids a few things about science in general and solar energy in particular. Since it was a sunny morning, I pulled my son away from the computer, where he was busy on CheatsPulse looking up Adventure World cheats so that he could get a leg up on his friends in the game. That new Zynga game is taking up way too much of his time, but that’s another story altogether. He objected vehemently at first, hoping he good squeeze out a little more gaming time, but the promise of some ice cream after a short outdoor adventure lured him away.

I told him to bring along his calculator, and that got a few weird stares. My goal today was to teach him about photovoltaic cells, a key part of solar energy, and how they work to power some of the simplest electronic devices, such as his pocket calculator. Essentially, the photovoltaic cells have semiconductors inside, and when sunlight hits the cell, a portion of it is absorbed inside the semiconductor material. When this happens, electrons break free, providing the energy needed to power the simple calculator. Since it’s a cheap device, we decided to pry it open and take a closer look.

Surprisingly, he was very intrigued. There’s something about little boys and breaking things apart that just seems to work well. After a while, he had forgotten completely about his video games and we spent an enjoyable afternoon together out in the sun learning about how solar energy works. He didn’t forget the promise of ice cream, though, and about an hour later we were getting another lesson in the power of solar energy: it’s ability to melt ice cream very quickly.

And of course, soon after the experiment, he was back on the computer looking up some new Club Penguin cheats for his ongoing obsession with that game.