It sounds like something out of a Ray Bradbury story: a science teacher, determined to prove to his friends that electricity can be generated from the sun, slaves away for hours at home building something that looks like a crystal ball. The device is locked away in the teacher’s attic, only to be unearthed 60 years later, when solar cells are all the rage.
According to the Daily Mail, however, all this is pretty much true. The science teacher has not been identified, but was known to be from Surrey, where a distant relative of his sold the piece to the antiques dealer Fred Nickson. The invention was recently put on show at on show at the Antiques for Everyone show at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre. The best part? It still works.
This early solar cell was based on the junction semiconductor idea patented in 1946 by Russell Ohl, similar to modern solar cells in that it makes use of a mineral called selenium to convert sunlight into electricity, but features negative and positive versions of the mineral, as in Ohl’s patented model. In direct sunlight this early solar cell can create 1.5 volts of electricity, enough power to run a modern day digital watch cell.