Mária Telkes

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Mária Telkes
Maria Telkes NYWTS.jpg
Mária Telkes
Born (1900-12-12)12 December 1900
Died 2 December 1995(1995-12-02) (aged 94)
Nationality Hungary
Fields Physics
Institutions Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Westinghouse, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University, University of Delaware
Known for Thermoelectricity
Notable awards National Inventors Hall of Fame

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

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Budapest, Hungary, Telkes moved from Hungary to the United States after completing her Ph.D. in physical chemistry.


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.

Telkes is known for creating the first thermoelectric power generator in 1947, designing the first solar heating system for the Dover Sun House in Dover, Massachusetts,[2][3] and the first thermoelectric refrigerator in 1953 using the principles of semiconductor thermoelectricity.

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

One of her specialties were phase-change materials, including molten salts to store thermal energy. She lectured widely in a rather pronounced Hungarian accent that sounded like one of the Gabor sisters. Fortunately, she had a ready sense of humor. One of her materials of choice was sodium sulfate Glauber's salt. After a lecture in Texas, a student came up to her, intrigued and asked, "Where can I get some of your 'global' salts ?"

Telkes is considered one of the founders of solar thermal storage systems, earning her the nickname, "sun queen".[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.



  1. ^ a b c "Maria Telkes". National Inventors Hall of Fame. Retrieved 4 February 2015. 
  2. ^ Denzer, Anthony (2013). The Solar House: Pioneering Sustainable Design. Rizzoli. ISBN 978-0847840052. 
  3. ^ Rooney, Anne. Solar Power. Gareth Stevens, Inc. (2008)

External links[edit]