October 1954 Popular Electronics
[Table of Contents]People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about
and learning some of the history of early electronics. Popular Electronics was published from October 1954 through April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
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say "solar battery, "I say, "solar cell." The nomenclature has evidently
changed since the time when commercializable solar cells first came
on the scene. Conversion efficiency rates of 6% are heralded, enough
they say so that "...a wafer-thin slab of crystal, 4 ft. x 15 ft., either
resting on or built into the roof of a house, could supply enough current
to operate all the lights, stove, refrigerator, and other appliances
in the house - 24 hours a day." Even with today's efficiencies in the
20% realm, you couldn't power much of a house on a 4 x 15 ft. array.
Maybe they meant if you had a gas lights, and a gas powered refrigerators(
yes, they exist) and a gas stove!
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Sun's Rays Used in New Invention
universe's greatest source of potential power - even greater than the
atom - has been harnessed experimentally and offers great promise for
future commercial applications.
A solar battery, the first successful
device to convert useful amounts of the sun's energy directly and efficiently
into electricity, has been demonstrated by the Bell Telephone Laboratories.
With an amazingly simple - looking apparatus made of strips
of silicon, the scientists demonstrated how the sun's rays could be
used to power the transmission of voices over telephone wires. These
strips are extremely sensitive to light. Linked together electrically,
they can deliver power at a rate of 50 watts per square yard.
G. L. Pearson. D. M. Chapin. and C. S. Fuller of Bell Labs checking
sample devices for amount of electricity derived from "sunlight"
The solar battery, composed of strips of specially prepared silicon.
has been used to power transmission of voices over telephone wires.
A toy Ferris wheel which receives its power from light falling on
a tiny piece of silicon. It was used to demonstrate principle.
According to the Laboratories, it is possible to achieve 6 percent efficiency
in converting sunlight directly into electricity. This compares favorably
with the efficiency of steam and gasoline engines in contrast with other
photoelectric devices which have never been rated higher than about
With improved techniques, the Bell Laboratories'
scientists expect to be able to increase this efficiency substantially.
Nothing is consumed or destroyed in the energy conversion process and
there are no moving parts so, theoretically, the solar battery should
The specially prepared silicon used is obtained,
originally, from common sand, one of the world's most abundant materials.
Silicon is a semiconductor, chemically related to germanium, the material
used in most transistors. Silicon has a much greater electronic stability
at higher temperatures than other semiconductors.
is still in the laboratory stage, actual use of the solar battery in
telephone work is a strong possibility. For example, silicon solar batteries
might be used as power supplies for low-power mobile equipment or as
sun-powered battery chargers which could be used at amplifier stations
along a rural telephone system such as that now being tested at Americus,
Georgia. This system, using transistors, points to greatly increased
service on rural telephone lines without the addition of new wires.
Although the sun supplies over a thousand trillion (1,000,000,000,000,000)
kilowatt hours of energy daily-comparable with all the reserves of coal,
oil, natural gas, and uranium found on earth-man has never been able
to convert more than a small fraction of this energy directly to his
use. WADC Engineers Also Convert Sun's Energy Into Electricity
Another successful attempt at converting light into electrical
energy has been reported by the Wright Air Development Center in Ohio.
Their method differs from that of the Bell Labs development
in that cadmium sulfide was used in place of silicon. Donald C. Reynolds
and Lt. Col. Gerard M. Leies discovered the excellent properties of
this substance while collecting data for rectifiers.
layer cell, as developed by the WADC scientists, consists of cadmium
sulfide processed into crystal form. The crystal used in the first model
was about the size of a sugar cube but it need be only wafer thin to
Although the first model was crude, the inventors
foresee that with several improvements and by hooking a number of the
units into relays it is possible to step up the voltage to unlimited
quantities. According to their report, the conversion powers are so
great that a wafer-thin slab of crystal, 4 ft. x 15 ft., either resting
on or built into the roof of a house, could supply enough current to
operate all the lights, stove, refrigerator, and other appliances in
the house - 24 hours a day.
Sunlight provides the power to turn this motor-driven
wheel held by D. M. Chapin, one of the three inventors
of the Bell
Detailed and close-up views of the razorblade-sized
silicon strips. The strips are connected in series in