A solar cell is a device for converting energy from the sun into electricity. The high-efficiency solar cells you can buy at Radio Shack and other stores are made from highly processed silicon, and require huge factories, high temperatures, vacuum equipment, and lots of money.
If we are willing to sacrifice efficiency for the ability to make our own solar cells in the kitchen out of materials from the neighborhood hardware store, we can demonstrate a working solar cell in about an hour.
Our solar cell is made from cuprous oxide instead of silicon. Cuprous oxide is one of the first materials known to display the photoelectric effect, in which light causes electricity to flow in a material.
Thinking about how to explain the photoelectric effect is what led Albert Einstein to the Nobel prize for physics, and to the theory of relativity.
Materials you will need
The solar cell is made from these materials:
A sheet of copper flashing from the hardware store. This normally costs about $5.00 per square foot. We will need about half a square foot.
Two alligator clip leads.
A sensitive micro-ammeter that can read currents between 10 and 50 microamperes. Radio Shack sells small LCD multimeters that will do, but I used a small surplus meter with a needle.
An electric stove. My kitchen stove is gas, so I bought a small one-burner electric hotplate for about $25. The little 700 watt burners probably won’t work — mine is 1100 watts, so the burner gets red hot.
A large clear plastic bottle off of which you can cut the top. I used a 2 liter spring water bottle. A large mouth glass jar will also work.
Table salt. We will want a couple tablespoons of salt.
Sand paper or a wire brush on an electric drill.
Sheet metal shears for cutting the copper sheet.
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