Humanities › History & Culture History and Definition of a Solar Cell A solar cell directly converts light energy into electrical energy Share Flipboard Email Print Andree_Nery / Getty Images History & Culture Inventions Famous Inventions Famous Inventors Patents & Trademarks Invention Timelines Computers & The Internet American History African American History African History Ancient History and Culture Asian History European History Genealogy Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By Mary Bellis Inventions Expert Mary Bellis covered inventions and inventors for ThoughtCo for 18 years. She is known for her independent films and documentaries, including one about Alexander Graham Bell. our editorial process Mary Bellis Updated July 03, 2019 Any device that directly converts the energy in light into electrical energy through the process of photovoltaics is a solar cell. The development of solar cell technology begins with the 1839 research of French physicist Antoine-César Becquerel. Becquerel observed the photovoltaic effect while experimenting with a solid electrode in an electrolyte solution when he saw a voltage develop when the light fell upon the electrode. Charles Fritts - First Solar Cell According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the first genuine solar cell was built around 1883 by Charles Fritts, who used junctions formed by coating selenium (a semiconductor) with an extremely thin layer of gold. Russell Ohl - Silicon Solar Cell Early solar cells, however, had energy conversion efficiencies of under one percent. In 1941, the silicon solar cell was invented by Russell Ohl. Gerald Pearson, Calvin Fuller, and Daryl Chapin - Efficient Solar Cells In 1954, three American researchers, Gerald Pearson, Calvin Fuller, and Daryl Chapin, designed a silicon solar cell capable of a six percent energy conversion efficiency with direct sunlight. The three inventors created an array of several strips of silicon (each about the size of a razor blade), placed them in sunlight, captured the free electrons and turned them into electrical current. They created the first solar panels. Bell Laboratories in New York announced the prototype manufacture of a new solar battery. Bell had funded the research. The first public service trial of the Bell Solar Battery began with a telephone carrier system (Americus, Georgia) on October 4, 1955.