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the photovoltaic effect

Albert Einstein is most commonly known about his theory of relativity, particularly the mass energy equivalence, E = mc^2. What most people don’t know is that Einstein conducted the most comprehensive theoretical work on the photovoltaic effect, which means turning light into electricity.

In fact in 1921 Einstein won the Noble Prize for his explanation of photovoltaics. Einstein explanation stated that light was a stream of particles, called photons. His studies suggested that when you shine a light upon certain metals, a stream of particles, electrons are emitted from the metal. Einstein concluded in his studies of the photovoltaics:

  • the number of electrons emitted depends on the intensity of the light beam.
  • electrons move faster if the applied light has higher frequency.
  • light has to hit the threshold frequency before electrons can be generated.

Many physicists were perplexed because they thought of light as a wave, not a stream of particles. Although Einstein proved that light has a dual nature, it can act both as a wave or a stream of particles depending on the conditions. Looking back at history the first discovery of the photovoltaic effect happened back in 1839, so why are we still so behind in terms of adopting solar photovoltaic panels in our daily lives?

It seems like the world has known about photovoltaics for such a long time but has not moved forward aggressively enough to take full advantage of the largest energy source known to man, the sun. Do you think photovoltaics is one of society’s best kept secretes?

Author: Deep Patel

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