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Paleontological Research Institution


9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, AP® / College


Science, Biology, Physics, Engineering

Resource Type

  • Videos, 7 minutes, 19 seconds, CC, Subtitles

Regional Focus



YouTube Video

DIY Solar Energy: Photosynthetic Solar Cells

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  • This video explains the science behind capturing solar energy, while the narrator creates her own small solar cell with a few basic materials, including the anthocyanin pigments in berry juice as a source of electrons.
  • The video shows how a dye-sensitized solar cell requires the creation of a charge gradient to get electrons moving, which can be provided by energy from the sun.
  • It also shows how to build a simple circuit to keep the electrons moving through the charge gradient. 
Teaching Tips


  • This video is a great overview of simple circuits and the necessary components to power electronics.
  • This topic is incredibly relevant to current engineering designs and energy policies to support renewable energy and combat climate change.
  • Resources for teachers to gather materials and teach about climate change are linked in the video notes.

Additional Prerequisites

  • Students should be familiar with basic physics and chemistry concepts such as electrons, voltage, circuits, and energy.
  • Students should understand the basics of photosynthesis and how plants convert energy from the sun into chemical energy to build their physical structures.


  • This video is dense with technical vocabulary, so it is highly recommended to create a note-taking guide to help students understand the science behind a solar cell.
  • Pausing the video every few seconds, slowing the payback speed as the narrator builds the cell, and having students draw an annotated diagram will help with comprehension.
  • Gather materials or request them from the Cornell Center for Materials Research Lending Library of Experiments (linked in the video notes) to make simple circuits or complete solar cells to help students understand each component of the process.
  • Biology classes can use this video to connect to lessons about photosynthesis, energy, atomic structure, pH, membrane potentials, the electron transport chain, and ion gradients.
Scientist Notes
This video resource from the Paleontological Research Institute introduces students to how solar cells work and then invites them to build their own dye-sensitized solar cell. The linked resources from the Cornell Center for Materials Research (CCMR) and the CCMR lending library make this activity possible in any classroom. This resource focuses on student interaction and how dye-sensitized solar cells can be used in architecture to create attractive structures that can be a part of the climate solution. This resource is recommended for teaching.
  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • ETS1: Engineering Design
      • HS-ETS1-1 Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.
    • PS3: Energy
      • HS-PS3-3 Design, build, and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy.
  • Common Core English Language Arts Standards (CCSS.ELA)
    • Reading: Science & Technical Subjects (6-12)
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 9-10 texts and topics.
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 11-12 texts and topics.
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