Russell Ohl (Wikipedia) is generally credited with inventing the first “modern” solar cell. His 1946 patent for a “Light sensitive electrical device” inspired an unnamed British science teacher from Surrey to create a working version of the device, which was recently discovered by his family and found to still work perfectly. In full sunlight, it generates 1.5 volts. According to this article in The Daily Mail:

[I]t was not until Russell Ohm [sic] patented the idea of the junction semiconductor solar cell, that the modern day solar panel was born. It is not known whether the American actually built a version of his modern solar cell, which means this artefact is thought to be the first one.

[via NOTCOT]

Sean Michael Ragan

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c’t – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.


    It does need some tiny copper/brass tubes, valves and fittings. And a beautifully crafted wood base would be better. Even so, that is a very cool thing.

  • Joshua Hernandez

    “In direct sunlight the contraption can create 1.5 volts of electricity, which is enough power to run a modern day digital watch.”

    By rubbing my socks on the carpet, I can generate several thousand volts. By this logic, I could power several Tesla roadsters if I drove without shoes. The article gives no mention of the amperage, which may indeed be enough to power a digital watch at 1.5v.

    OK…The patent suggests that the cell could power a high impedance load at about 300 milliwatts. Since modern digital watches run in the dozens of milliwatts, this should be sufficient so power a dozen or so watches.

    • Sean Michael Ragan

      …looking to the Daily Mail for any sort of intelligent technical info. Frankly, I’m dubious of the “first” claim, too, since it seems wildly unlikely to me that Mr. Ohl would patent a novel light-sensitive semiconductor and never actually, you know, go to the trouble of making a few of them and hooking them up together. Still, it’s a cool-looking antique.