Mystery Image Contest: February 3-17, 2014


This image is of a solar cell, also known as a photovoltaic cell. Solar cells are electrical devices that can turn sunlight into electricity. They were first invented in the 1950s, though the scientific principles behind them were discovered by other scientists, including Albert Einstein, up to 75 years before that. Perhaps you have seen a solar cell on a calculator or grouped into larger solar panels on the roofs of buildings, or heard of competitions to design cars that run entirely on solar power. Though the technology to convert sunlight into electricity has existed for decades now, the current designs for solar cells are still very inefficient. There is theoretically great potential, though, for solar power to become an important source of renewable energy—because sunlight is plentiful and free and because solar panels tend to not be as disruptive to the surrounding environment as, say, fossil fuels. Indeed, with the current technology there are some areas where solar power has achieved grid parity—where unsubsidized solar power is on par with or cheaper than retail electricity prices. Improving the efficiency of solar cells and continuing to bring down the cost is one problem that engineers are working on as the need for renewable energy sources becomes more pressing.


This image is of a solar cell.

Photo Credit

Georg Slickers via Wikimedia Commons

Winning Entry

Douglas A. Hanks
Department of Chemistry, Univ. of Nevada Las Vegas
Las Vegas, Nevada

For Educators

Teaching Support

The use of this image for the February Mystery Image Contest coincides with National Engineers Week, which runs this year from February 16–22. National Engineers Week seeks to expand awareness of the impact that engineering has on people's lives and to encourage student interest in STEM subjects and in engineering as a career. 

This Mystery Image Contest can be used in conjunction with the resources available through National Engineers Week. Using the solar cell image as a springboard, try exploring the following questions with your students: What do engineers do? What school subjects did they need to study to be engineers? How does their work impact our lives? What types of challenges are engineers working on now? This last question especially ties back to the image of the solar cell, because a subfield that many engineers are working on now is renewable energy, including solar power.

Below: Science NetLinks has a great number of resources related to energy and renewable energy, including a few devoted specifically to solar power. For resources related to engineering in general, see the DiscoverE tool and the National Engineers Week Collection.

Related Resources

Just Turn It Off
Energy Sources and Use
3-5 | LESSON
Sensing Energy
3-5 | LESSON
Harnessing Solar Energy
6-8 | LESSON
Renewable Energy Sources
6-8 | LESSON
Energy: The U.S. in Crisis?
9-12 | LESSON
Star Power! Discovering the Power of Sunlight
9-12 | LESSON
Fossil Fuel Switch
Solar Power from Moon
K-12 | TOOL
Power Up!
3-8 | TOOL
National Engineers Week
The Science of Energy
Solar Cells
9-12 | VIDEO

Science NetLinks Mystery Image Contest Rules and Regulations

What Is the

Mystery Image Contest?

The Mystery Image Contest offers the chance to identify a science-related object based on a close-up picture of it.