The Photoelectric Effect: How Solar Panels Generate Renewable Energy Virtual Lab

Explore the photoelectric effect with Albert Einstein! Perform an experiment to test the wave model and discover that light is actually made up of photons. Use this knowledge to set up an efficient solar farm to power the time machine and send him home. 

  • High School

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About This Simulation

Albert Einstein has traveled from the past to give you a private lesson! In this simulation, you will learn all about the photoelectric effect and how it is used by solar panels to generate renewable energy. With Einstein, you’ll perform an experiment and discover that the wave model of light cannot explain the effect. You’ll learn that light is actually made up of particles called photons! Applying your new knowledge of the photoelectric effect to solar panels, you will set up an efficient solar farm to power the time machine and send Einstein safely back to the past!

Experiment with the photoelectric effect

Illuminate a metal plate and watch in amazement as photoelectrons are emitted! Try changing the frequency and intensity of the light or the metal of the plate and see what happens. Einstein will guide you through the photoelectric effect experiment, prompting you to make important observations along the way. While investigating, you will discover for yourself the many ways that the photoelectric effect conflicts with the wave model of light! Why is there a threshold frequency? Should there not be a delay after I switch on the light? All these questions will be answered by the photon model!

Is light a wave?

The photoelectric effect cannot be explained by the wave model of light, but it can be explained if light acts like a particle! As you make your observations, Einstein will identify each conflict and take you through the ideas that led him to his Nobel Prize-winning theory: the photon model of light! You will then return to the experiment, this time to see how photons and electrons interact with each other and use this to explain what you see!

The power of the Sun!

The time machine battery is dead! In a stroke of luck, you find yourself in the control room of an old solar farm. After discovering how solar panels use the photoelectric effect to generate renewable electricity, you will rebuild the farm. Applying your understanding of the photon model, you will see why we must maximize the exposed surface area of the solar panels to generate as much current as possible. Can you use the power of the Sun to recharge the time machine and send Einstein home before history is changed forever?

Explore The Photoelectric Effect: How Solar Panels Generate Renewable Energy Virtual Lab Simulation

You stand in front of a floating time machine as Dr. One hovers nearby. Jets of energy spew out of the time machine thrusters and a bright blue glow can be seen through the viewport. The silhouette of a man can be seen within the glow.
You stand in front of a holo-table. Albert Einstein is standing behind the holo-table, next to a blackboard that has some observations written on it. Dr. One hovers nearby. On the holo-table, there are two metal plates and a light source that illuminates the left plate. Electrons have been ejected from this plate and are traveling towards the plate on the right. There is a control panel on the holo-table with two sliders labeled "Frequency" and "Intensity". The instructions on the LabPad read: "Experiment by changing the intensity of the light illuminating the plate. Talk to Einstein when you have discovered what effect this has.".
You stand in front of four displays, with Dr. One and Albert Einstein nearby. One display is titled "Solar Farm Controls - Task Checklist" and shows a checklist with the following items: "Adjust the Solar Panel Direction", "Insert the Solar Cells", and "Adjust the Solar Panel Tilt". All of these items are unticked. The display also shows a meter labeled "Current" that is partially filled. The other three displays are labeled "Adjust the Solar Panel Direction", "Insert the Solar Cells", and "Adjust the Solar Panel Tilt". They each have their own current meter. The first shows a solar panel on an isometric plane, currently facing away from the Sun, and a button that shows a rotating arrow. The second display shows a solar panel with missing solar cells. The missing solar cells are placed adjacent to the panel. The third display shows a solar panel, currently angled away from the Sun, and a slider. The instructions on the LabPad read: "Use the solar farm controls to construct and align the solar panels. Fill the current meter by maximizing the surface area of the panels exposed to the Sun.".
The image shows a solar farm in a desert. All of the solar panels are complete and are facing the same way.

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