Maria Telkes was an innovative scientist who played a significant role in advancing solar energy technology. Her unwavering passion for the subject led her to invent some of the world's earliest solar-powered devices. Thanks to her notable contributions, Telkes earned the nickname "The Sun Queen" and continues to be recognized today as a trailblazer in the field of solar energy.
Mária Telkes was born on December 12, 1900, in Budapest, Hungary as the daughter of Aladar Telkes and Maria Laban de Telkes. She was passionate about science and pursued physical chemistry at the University of Budapest, where she earned her B.A. in 1920 and Ph.D. in 1924. After teaching at the same institution for some time, she moved to the United States and started working as a biophysicist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in 1925. During her tenure at the foundation, she worked on a photoelectric device that allowed scientists to record brain waves.
Telkes obtained American citizenship in 1937 and was employed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as a member of its solar energy committee. In 1939, she contributed to the Solar Energy Conversion Project at MIT, focusing on the development of thermoelectric devices powered by sunlight. Later, in 1945, she was promoted to the position of associate research professor at MIT.
Telkes was assigned to the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II. She became known for creating a famous solar distiller in 1942. The device was designed to vaporize seawater and recondense it into drinking water and was included in the U.S. military's emergency medical kits. Soldiers could access safe and potable drinking water once the water was cooled.
Telkes and American architect Eleanor Raymond collaborated in 1948 to design and build the world's first modern solar-heated residence, located in Dover, Massachusetts commonly referred to as the Dover House. She installed metal and glass panels behind the windows of the house to transfer heat from the sun through a duct into storage bins containing Glauber’s salt. The salt, which could store heat seven times more efficiently than water, would melt and absorb heat on sunny days, cooling the house during warm weather. During cold days, the salt would cool down and recrystallize, releasing the stored heat.
Throughout her professional career, Telkes dedicated herself to the development of solar energy applications and received multiple patents, awards, and recognition for her outstanding work. Maria Telkes made history by becoming the first recipient of the Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award in 1952. Later in 1977, she was honoured again with a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Sciences Building Research Advisory Board for her contributions to solar-heated building technology. Additionally, Telkes was awarded the Charles Greeley Abbot Award from the American Solar Energy Society for her exemplary work in the field.
Maria Telkes, one of the few female pioneers in solar energy development, passed away in 1995, but her work remains relevant today.
Information from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Maria-Telkes, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/12/12/maria-telkes-why-google-honours-her-today and https://www.invent.org/blog/inventors/maria-telkes-the-sun-queen was used in this story