Hungarian beginnings

Maria de Telkes was born in 1900 in Budapest, Hungary, where she lived with her large middle-class family and according to Telkes (1949) she became interested in solar power during high school, after which she enrolled at the University of Budapest to study mathematics and physics. After receiving her undergraduate degree in 1920 she went on to earn a Ph.D. in physical chemistry in only four years, under the guidance of physics professor Istvan Rybar. Promptly after completion of her doctorate degree she was invited by her politically connected uncle to visit the U.S., which she did and subsequently did not return to Hungary for seventy years until just before the time of her death in 1995 (Moreau, 2011) (Telkes, 1949).

A new life in the U.S.

After moving to the U.S. the Cleveland Biophysical Institute (CBI) was the first place that Dr. Telkes worked, where she studied the effects of low frequency electromagnetic radiation on neuron tissues, as well as other issues surrounding the physical nature of death. Dr. Telkes’ success and influence was growing during her time at CBI, which is demonstrated by the fact that she was the only woman scientist mentioned in a 1934 article run in the New York Times that detailed a list of the eleven most influential women in the U.S.. In 1939 she began her prestigious solar energy career as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology  (MIT). In 1940 she became the lead researcher of a forty-eight year long, $650,000 privately granted project involving the harnessing and storage of solar energy (Moreau, 2011).

A tenured career

During Dr. Telkes’ impressive tenure at MIT she authored over 100 papers and published 20 patents. Her most notable inventions are the solar still, solar oven, solar houses, and the PCM technology she invented. The solar still was used by the U.S. Navy during WWII, and the solar oven has been widely used in India. Although Dr. Telkes received a significant amount of attention from the news media in the U.S. for her work and innovation in solar technology, she was largely under-appreciated in her native Budapest, where there was not even a significant obituary published after her death in 1995 (Moreau, 2011).

The unknown

There is little information about Dr. Telkes’ personal life, but is apparent is that she did not feel motivated to visit her home country. Furthermore, there is no information in the literature review that indicated that she had any sort of significant-other, or children. From all outward appearances, Dr. Telkes was a devoted professional scientist in all aspects of her life (Moreau, 2011).


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