Dr. Maria Telkes (Telkes, 2015).
Dr. Maria Telkes. Photo courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica. (Maria, 2015).

Dr. Maria de Telkes was a remarkable scientist and technologist whose pioneering work with solar technology and phase change materials (PCMs) laid a foundation of study for scientists today. Although she did not live to see the large scale application of her work with PCMs, she did see the appreciation of some of her other solar technologies, including desalination and cooking applications. There is significant evidence that the technologies she invented will soon come into practical widespread use, and could arguably be considered some of the most important green energy technologies being developed today (Kenisarin & Mahkamov, 2007).

Some of the very first large scale applications of PCMs are currently being developed, tested, and implemented in the United States and around the world. A comprehensive list of solar power projects, many of which are using or plan to use PCMs for energy storage can be found at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s concentrating solar power project. Information about the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project can be found there, which is an excellent example of engineers using PCMs to store thermal energy with a large scale capacity, much in the way Dr. Telkes had envisioned it would be used (Moreau, 2001) (NREL, n.d.).

According to the World Health Organization household air pollution and health fact sheet almost half of the world’s population still uses open fires for cooking and heating their homes, and half of all deaths of children under age five living in these homes can be attributed to respiratory trauma from cooking and heating fires (WHO ,2014). The solar oven that Dr. Telkes invented and patented, which despite its limitations of not having thermal storage capacity, has practical applications for daytime cooking and has been widely utilized in India, where it may be improving the lives of women and children who do not have access to modern cooking fuels (Moreau, 2001) (Muthusivagami, Velraj, & Sethumadhavan, 2010).

Dr. Telkes was an intriguing scientist and technologist whose innovations will continue to have lasting environmental and humanitarian impacts. There is a great deal of scientific interest in technology based on Dr. Telkes’ inventions, indicating that Telkes may become a modern household name as global efforts of sustainability and arresting climate change gain traction, and as we turn toward the sun for more of our energy needs.


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