Mária Telkes

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Mária Telkes
Maria Telkes NYWTS.jpg
Mária Telkes
Born(1900-12-12)12 December 1900
Died2 December 1995(1995-12-02) (aged 94)
Known forThermoelectricity
AwardsNational Inventors Hall of Fame
Scientific career
InstitutionsCleveland Clinic Foundation, Westinghouse, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University, University of Delaware

Mária Telkes (December 12, 1900 – December 2, 1995) was a Hungarian-American biophysicist, scientist and inventor who worked on solar energy technologies.[1]

Telkes is considered one of the founders of solar thermal storage systems, earning her the nickname "the Sun Queen".[2]

She was a prolific inventor of practical thermal devices, including a miniature desalination unit (solar still) for use on lifeboats, which used solar power and condensation to collect potable water. The still saved the lives of airmen and sailors who would have been without water when abandoned at sea.[1]

She moved to Texas in the 1970s and consulted with a variety of start-up solar companies, including Northrup Solar, which subsequently became ARCO Solar, and eventually BP Solar.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1900 to Aladar and Maria Laban de Telkes. She attended elementary and high school in Budapest and later to studied at the University of Budapest, graduating with a B.A. in physical chemistry in 1920 and a Ph. D. in 1924 respectively. [3]


When she moved to the United States in 1925, she visited a relative who was the Hungarian consul in Cleveland, Ohio. There, she was hired to work in at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation to investigate the energy produced by living organisms. Telkes did a number of research while working at the Foundation, and under the leadership of George Crile, they invented a photoelectric mechanism that could record brain waves and also worked to write a book called Phenomenon of Life.[3]

Telkes worked as a biophysicist in the United States; and, from 1939 to 1953, she was involved in solar energy research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

During World War II, the United States government, noting Telkes's expertise, recruited her to serve as a civilian advisor to the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD). [3] There, she developed a solar-powered water desalination machine. It became to be one of her most notable inventions because it helped soldiers get clean water in difficult situations and also helped solved water problems in the US Virgin Islands.[4]

Dover Sun House[edit]

In 1948, she started working on one of her most important projects. This was the Dover Sun House, whom she teamed up with architect Eleanor Raymond and financed by sculptor Amelia Peabody. [5] The system was designed so that a special salt would be able to melt in the sun, trap the heat and release it once it cooled and hardened.

The system worked in a way where the sunlight would pass through glass windows which would heat air inside the glass. This heated air was pass through a metal sheet into another air space. From there, fans move the air to a storage compartment filled with the sodium sulphate (salt). These compartments were in between the walls, which therefore heated the house as the salt cooled.[5] This project was an incredible feat as it was the first house of its kind and fit perfectly with the cold northeastern winters. Also, the fact that three women teamed together to work on such project made it even more of a sensation.

Other Work[edit]

In addition to this, she received a grant by the Ford Foundation of $45,000 to develop a solar-powered oven so people who lack the technology around the world be able to heat things. [6] Later in 1980, she helped the US Department of Energy to develop and build the first fully solar powered home. She received multiple awards for her work, and over the course of her career, earned more than 20 patents. [7]

One of her specialties were phase-change materials, including molten salts to store thermal energy. One of her materials of choice was Glauber's salt.

Schools named after her[edit]

There are a number of schools named after her, "Maria Telkes" in South Carolina, "Telkes Middle School" in San Francisco, and "Telkes Maria High School" in Ohio.[citation needed]


  • 1945 – OSRD Certificate of Merit for the Desalination Unit[3]
  • 1952 – Society of Women Engineers Award
  • 1977 – American Solar Energy Society, Charles Greeley Abbot Award
  • 2012 – Induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame


  1. ^ a b "Maria Telkes". National Inventors Hall of Fame. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  2. ^ Elizabeth H. Oakes (2007). "Maria Telkes". Encyclopedia of World Scientists. Infobase Publishing. p. 714. ISBN 978-1-4381-1882-6.
  3. ^ a b c d "Telkes, Maria | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2019-04-03.
  4. ^ "Mária Telkes | American physical chemist and biophysicist". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-04-03.
  5. ^ a b Guerra, Tiffany (2016-04-24). "Year of Women in History: Maria Telkes, Chemist and Inventor". Year of Women in History. Retrieved 2019-04-03.
  6. ^ "Maria Telkes | Lemelson-MIT Program". lemelson.mit.edu. Retrieved 2019-04-03.
  7. ^ Global, C. P. A. "World-changing Women Innovators | MARIA TELKES". www.cpaglobal.com. Retrieved 2019-04-03.

External links[edit]