Maria Telkes (December 12, 1900 – December 2, 1995) was a Hungarian-American biophysicist, scientist, and inventor who worked on solar energy technology.
Telkes is considered one of the founders of solar heat storage systems, for which she received the nickname “Queen of the Sun”.
She was a prolific inventor of practical thermal devices, including a miniature desalination plant ( solar still ) for use on lifeboats that used solar power and condensate to collect potable water. They saved the lives of pilots and sailors who would have been left without water when they were thrown into the sea.
She moved to Texas in the 1970s and advised various start-up solar companies, including Northrup Solar, which would become ARCO Solar, and eventually BP Solar.
early life and education
Born in Budapest , Hungary In 1900, for Aladar and Maria Laban de Telkes, Maria attended primary and secondary school in Budapest. She then studied at the University of Budapest, graduating with a bachelor’s degree. PhD in physical and chemical sciences in 1920 and doctorate in 1924
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 for the Cleveland Clinic Foundation to research the energy produced by living organisms. Telkes did some research while working for the foundation, and under the guidance of George Crile, they invented a photoelectric mechanism that could record brain waves and were also working on writing a book called The Phenomenon of Life .
Telkes worked as a biophysicist in the US; and from 1939 to 1953 she participated in solar energy research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology .
During World War II, the United States government, noting Telkes‘ expertise, hired her as a civilian advisor to the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD). There she developed a solar-powered desalination plant. It became one of her most notable inventions because it helped soldiers get clean water in difficult situations and also helped solve water problems in the US Virgin Islands.
Dover Sun House
In 1948 she began working on the Dover Sun House; she teamed up with architect Eleanor Raymond , with a project funded by philanthropist and sculptor Amelia Peabody. The system was designed so that the special salt would melt in the sun, trap heat, and then release it as it cooled and solidified.
The system worked with sunlight passing through glass windows, which heated the air inside the glass. This heated air then passed through the metal sheet into another airspace. From there, fans moved air into a storage compartment filled with salt ( sodium sulfate ). These compartments were located between the walls, heating the house as the salt cooled.
In addition to this, she received a $45,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to develop a solar-powered oven so people around the world could heat objects without the technology. The criteria for this project were that the oven should be able to heat up to 350 degrees and be easy to use. The result was an innovation that worked even better than expected. This was useful for use by Indian tribes on remote reservations. There were additional safety features so that children could use them. While she invented the solar oven, she also opened up a better way for farmers to dry their crops using the same technology. This technology was extremely important to society as a whole and is still in use today. Later in 1980, she helped the US Department of Energy design and build the first all-solar home. She has received numerous awards for her work and received over 20 patents during her career.
One of her specialties was phase change materials, including molten salts for thermal energy storage. One of her preferred materials was Glauber’s salt (sodium sulfate).
- 1945 – Certificate of Appreciation from the OSRD for a desalination plant.
- 1952 – Society of Women Engineers Award
- 1977 – American Solar Society, Charles Greeley Abbott Award
- 2012 – Induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame
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