Holy Telkes life

Maria TELKES (1900-1995)

Mária Telkes was an American chemist and biophysicist of Hungarian origin, best known for her invention of the solar distiller and the first solar heating system designed for homes. She also invented other devices capable of storing the energy captured by sunlight.
In 1937, she became a research engineer at Westinghouse Electric. There, she developed instruments that converted heat into electrical energy; however, she made her first forays into solar energy research in 1939. That year, as part of the Solar Energy Conversion Project at MIT, she worked on thermoelectric devices powered by sunlight.
Telkes was assigned to the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II. She created there one of her most important inventions: a solar distiller capable of vaporizing seawater and recondensing it into drinking water. Although the system was carried on life rafts during the war, it was also expanded to meet the water needs of the Virgin Islands.

Together with American architect Eleanor Raymond, she designed and built the world’s first modern solar-heated residence. The house was built in Dover, Massachusetts, in 1948. Box-shaped solar collectors captured sunlight and heated the air in a compartment between a double layer of glass and a sheet of black metal. Warmed air was then channelled into the walls, where it transfered heat to Glauber’s salts (crystallised sodium sulphate) for storage and later use. She improved heat exchanger technology to create solar stoves and solar heaters, receiving a $45,000 grant from the Ford Foundation in 1953 to create a universal solar oven that could be adapted for use by people living in all latitudes. In 1980, she helped the U.S. Department of Energy develop the world’s first solar-electric home, which was built in Carlisle, Massachusetts.

Until the end of her career, Telkes continued to develop solar energy applications and received several patents for her work. Her life and her applied research work are exemplary in the field of renewable energy.

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