Milestone-Proposal:First Practical Photovoltaic Solar Cell

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Docket #:

This Proposal has been approved, and is now a Milestone Nomination

This is a draft proposal, that has not yet been submitted. To submit this proposal, click on "Edit with form", check the "Submit this proposal for review" box at the bottom, and save the page.

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old?

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s fields of interest? (e.g. “the theory and practice of electrical, electronics, communications and computer engineering, as well as computer science, the allied branches of engineering and the related arts and sciences” – from the IEEE Constitution)

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity?

Was it of at least regional importance?

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)?

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony?

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated?

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an Electrical Engineering Milestone? Yes

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:


Title of the proposed milestone:

First Practical Photovoltaic Solar Cell

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?

North Jersey

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

Milestone proposer(s):

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

Proposed site of the proposed milestone plaque would be in the Hall of Innovation on the site where the invention occurred at what is now Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs, 600 Mountain Ave, Murray Hill, NJ.

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need.

Proposed site of the proposed milestone plaque would be in the Hall of Innovation on the site where the invention occurred at what is now Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs, 600 Mountain Ave, Murray Hill, NJ, within the IEEE North Jersey Section.

Are the original buildings extant?


Details of the plaque mounting:

How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?

The Hall of Innovation is accessible to the public via the lobby in Building 6.

Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs

A letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property:

A letter or email from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application:

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)?

This invention was the prototype of present photovoltaic cells that are in widespread manufacture all over the world and is a key element of the renewable energy effort to reduce the use of fossil fuels to combat global warming. These inventors made their cells with Silicon, the dominant material used to make today's solar cells. This invention was recognized quickly and was the source of power for all communications satellites, including Telstar, the first commercial communications satellite.

Needless to say, communications and scientific satellites would not be possible without this invention.  These cells are clearly visible on the roofs of private residents, commercial buildings, and even telephone poles. Their use is expanding rapidly. By Dr. Alfred U. Mac Rae (NAE).

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

In early 1953, in an effort to find new sources of power for transistor telephone systems, Chapin began to investigate the direct conversion of solar energy into electrical energy. The creation of a very thin PN junction within silicon had to be overcome. The solar battery was first demonstrated on April 25, 1954. In 1959, Chapin so simplified the process of making solar cells that it became one of Bell Systems’ Science Experiments performed by high school students around the U.S.

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

In 1954, three American researchers, G.L. Pearson, Daryl Chapin, and Calvin Fuller, demonstrated a silicon solar cell capable of a six percent energy-conversion efficiency when used in direct sunlight. Up until that time only about a one percent energy-conversion efficiency had been achieved. “The modern age of solar power technology arrived in 1954 when Bell Laboratories, experimenting with semiconductors, accidentally found that silicon doped with certain impurities was very sensitive to light. Daryl Chapin, with Bell Labs colleagues Calvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson, invented the first practical device for converting sunlight into useful electrical power.[3]This resulted in the production of the first practical solar cells with a sunlight energy conversion efficiency of around 6 percent. The solar battery was first demonstrated on April 25, 1954. The first spacecraft to use solar panels was the US satellite Vanguard 1, launched in March 1958 with solar cells made by Hoffman Electronics. This milestone created interest in producing and launching a geostationary communications satellite, in which solar energy would provide a viable power supply. This was a crucial development which stimulated funding from several governments into research for improved solar cells.”

References to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or citations to pages in scholarly books. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article.

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.