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“It is the things supposed to be impossible that interest me. I like to do things they say cannot be done.” Maria Telkes, 1942

Marias Telkes was born on December 12, 1900 in Budapest, Hungary. Passionate about science, she studied physics and chemistry, and obtained a doctorate in 1924. She then left Europe for the USA, her diploma in hand.

Maria began her professional career working as a biophysicist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio. However, she has always had a strong interest in solar energy. She therefore joined the Solar Energy Conversion Project carried out by the M.I.T from 1939. Thereafter, she was employed by the Office of Scientific Research and Development. There, she developed one of her most important inventions: a solar distiller capable of transforming seawater into drinking water. In a context of war (2nd World War) this invention proved to be very useful for the American army.

Between 1947 and 1948, Maria collaborated with the architect Eleanor Raymond on her most famous invention: The Dover Sun House. This is the first house entirely heated by solar energy. Although it is not the first solar house, the particularity of Maria and Eleanor’s house is that it can function even in the absence of the sun. Indeed, the device is able, thanks to Glauber’s salt (sodium sulfate), to store heat, which will then be used when it is colder.

Maria Telkes during her solar heating demonstration

Called “The Sun Queen” by Americans, Maria Telkes is also known for other inventions such as the first thermoelectric generator (1947), the first thermoelectric refrigerator (1953). In 1952, she received the first award of excellence from the Society of Women Engineers, in compensation for her work. She also received an award for her contribution to solar energy research in 1977. Settled in Texas in 1970, she is considered a reference and a pioneer in the field of solar thermal energy. In 1980, she participated in the creation of the first electric solar residence with the United States government.

Maria Telkes receiving the award from the Society of Women Engineers

On December 2, 1995, Maria died in Hungary at the age of 94. Although she is not very famous in the 21st century, her work has had a great impact in the sector of ecology and renewable energies. Her solar house also strongly inspired the solar panels used today.

Written by Lobelie N.


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