The Marvelously Inventive Life of Mária Telkes – She Lit the Way for Solar
Scientist Mária Telkes spent her life chasing the sun. Telkes, who was born in Hungary in 1900, first became interested in solar energy while studying at the University of Budapest. After receiving her doctorate in physical chemistry in 1924, she emigrated to the United States and began work as a biophysicist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. In the late 1930s, Telkes studied energy conversion for Westinghouse Electric before joining the Solar Energy Conversion Project, a research unit at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in 1939.
Throughout her career, Telkes was a pragmatist who operated in the realm of applied science; she was interested in seeing her inventions put to use in the real world. By the time of her death in 1995 she had earned more than 20 patents, most of them for inventions that exploited what she saw as the limitless potential of solar power. “Sunlight will be used as a source of energy sooner or later anyway,” Telkes wrote in a 1951 paper, adding, “Why wait?” FOR MORE
Capturing the Sun Queen Maria Telkes
By Kirstin Butler in The American Experience
American physical chemist and biophysicist Mária Telkes and her radical design modeled a new future.
Celebrated LIFE Magazine photographer Ralph Morse captured scores of notable Americans—actress Audrey Hepburn posing with the Oscar she won for the film “Roman Holiday,” baseball legend Jackie Robinson stealing home base at the 1955 World Series, astronaut John Glenn suiting up for space—but before all of them came the “Sun Queen,” and her house.
In the winter of 1949, LIFE sent Morse to Dover, Massachusetts to train his lens on Mária Telkes, a Hungarian-born inventor and chemical engineer who earned that regal nickname for her relentless pursuit of solar technology. As a freshman at the University of Budapest, Telkes had read a book called Energy Sources of the Future, about the sun’s vast potential to meet human energy needs. “This was the deciding moment,” she said later. “The book described experiments, mostly conducted in the United States, and therefore this was the place for me.” FOR MORE
Maria Telkes: Why a Google Doodle is celebrating the Hungarian scientist’s work on solar power today
Poster credit: American Expeience