Daryl Chapin, with Bell Labs colleagues Calvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson, invented the first practical device for converting sunlight into useful electrical power. Today, the silicon solar cell powers devices from hand held calculators to the Mars Rover.
Chapin was born in Ellensburg, Washington. He earned a bachelor's degree from Willamette University and a master's degree from the University of Washington. He joined Bell Labs in 1930, after teaching physics at Oregon State College for a year.
At Bell Labs, Chapin initially studied magnetic materials. During World War II, he focused on underwater sound devices and magnetic recording. In early 1953, in an effort to find new sources of power for transistor telephone systems, he began to investigate the direct conversion of solar energy into electrical energy. 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.
Chapin was a Bell Labs scientist for over 40 years. After retiring, he was still fascinated with all forms of sunlight energy. From the solar panel that powered the electric fence around his garden to finding new uses for photovoltaic cells, that passion continued to the time of his death.