Maria Telkes


Maria Telkes was born in Budapest, Hungary on December 12th, 1900 and is the Physicist. At the age of 94, Maria Telkes biography, profession, age, height, weight, eye color, hair color, build, measurements, education, career, dating/affair, family, news updates, and networth are available.

Date of Birth
December 12, 1900
Hungary, United States
Place of Birth
Budapest, Hungary
Death Date
Dec 2, 1995 (age 94)
Zodiac Sign
Biophysicist, Chemist, Inventor
Maria Telkes Height, Weight, Eye Color and Hair Color

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Maria Telkes Career

When Telkes moved to the United States in 1924, 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 some research while working at the foundation, and under the leadership of George Washington Crile, they invented a photoelectric mechanism that could record brain waves. They also worked together to write a book called Phenomenon of Life.

Telkes next worked as a biophysicist at Westinghouse. She developed metal alloys for thermocouples to convert heat into electricity.

She wrote to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) about working in its new solar energy program. She was hired in 1939, staying until 1953.

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). There, she developed a solar-powered water desalination machine, completing a prototype in 1942. It came to be 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. However, its initial deployment was delayed until the end of the war because Hoyt C. Hottel repeatedly re-negotiated its manufacturing contracts.

Telkes identified solar heat storage as the most critical problem facing designers of a workable solar-heated house. One of her specialties was phase-change materials, that absorb or release heat when they change from solid to liquid. She hoped to use phase-change materials like molten salts for storing thermal energy in active heating systems. One of her materials of choice was Glauber's salt (sodium sulfate).

Hottel, as chairman of the solar energy fund at MIT, originally supported Telkes's approach. He wrote that “Dr. Telkes’ contribution may make a big difference in the outcome of our project”. However, he was both less interested in and more skeptical about solar power, compared to Telkes. Telkes, like the project's funder Godfrey Lowell Cabot, was a "fervent believer in solar energy". There were personality clashes between Hottel and Telkes, who was both assertive and the only woman on the MIT team.

In 1946, the group tried to use Glauber’s salt in the design of their second solar house. Hottel and others blamed Telkes for problems with the material. In spite of support from university president Karl Compton, Telkes was reassigned to the metallurgy department, where she continued her work on thermocouples. Although she was no longer involved in the MIT solar fund, Cabot would have liked her to return. He encouraged her to continue working on the problem independently.

In 1948, Telkes started working on the Dover Sun House; she teamed up with architect Eleanor Raymond, with the project financed by philanthropist and sculptor Amelia Peabody. The system was designed so that Glauber's salt would melt in the sun, trap the heat and then release it as it cooled and hardened.

The system worked with the sunlight passing through glass windows, which would heat the air inside the glass. This heated air then passed through a metal sheet into another air space. From there, fans moved the air to a storage compartment filled with the salt (sodium sulfate). These compartments were in between the walls, heating the house as the salt cooled.

For the first two years the house was successful, receiving tremendous publicity and drawing crowds of visitors. Popular Science hailed it as perhaps more important, scientifically, than the atom bomb. By the third winter, there were problems with the Glauber’s salt: it had stratified into layers of liquid and solid, and its containers were corroded and leaking. The owners removed the solar heating system from their house.

In 1953 George Russell Harrison, Dean of Science at MIT, called for a review of the solar fund at MIT, due to concerns about its lack of productivity. The resulting report tended to promote Hottel's views and disparaged both Cabot and Telkes. Telkes was fired by MIT in 1953 after the report came out.

As of 1953, Telkes moved to the New York University College of Engineering where she continued to work on solar energy research. Telkes received a grant from 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. The criteria for this project was that the oven needed to be able to get as high as 350 degrees, and needed to be easy to use. The result was an innovation that worked even better than anticipated. It was useful for tribal Indian usage in remote reservations. There were extra safety features so that children could use them. While she invented the solar oven, she also discovered a better way for farmers to dry their crops using the same technology. This technology was extremely important for society as a whole and is still used today.

Telkes spent several years in industry, as director of solar energy at the Curtiss-Wright Company; working on materials for use in extreme conditions such as space at Cryo-Therm (1961-1963); and again as director of solar energy at Melpar, Inc. (1963-1969). As part of her work at Cryo-Therm she helped to develop materials for use in the Apollo and Polaris missions.

In 1969 Telkes joined the Institute of Energy Conversion at the University of Delaware. She began to study electricity-generating photovoltaic cells. In 1971 she helped to build the first house to generate both heat and electricity from the sun.

In 1981 she helped the US Department of Energy to develop and build the first fully solar-powered home, Carlisle House in Carlisle, Massachusetts.

In 1964 she spoke at the first International Conference of Women Engineers and Scientists in New York.