Maria Telkes – Scientist and Inventor

Maria Telkes, who is nicknamed the Sun Queen, was a leader in solar energy technology.

Maria Telkes was an American scientist who invented solar-powered devices.  She studied biophysics and chemistry. She earned her doctorate degree in 1924. Telkes learned that heat from sunlight could be captured and stored, and then used as energy. Energy from the heat of the Sun is called solar energy. Solar energy can be collected and used to heat buildings and to make electricity. Maria Telkes spent her career creating devices that ran on solar energy.

Early in her career, Maria Telkes worked for an electric company. She developed instruments that converted heat into electrical energy. A few years later, she started her research in solar energy. During World War II, she created one of her most important inventions called a solar still. A solar still uses solar power to make sea water drinkable. Solar stills were carried on lifeboats. These solar-powered water systems saved the lives of sailors and airmen who would have been without fresh water while stranded at sea.  Maria Telkes was also responsible for the design and construction of the first solar home. It was the first modern home that could be heated by the Sun!  Telkes is considered one of the founders of solar thermal storage systems, which earned her the nickname “the Sun Queen.”  Maria Telkes invented many solar-powered devices in her career. She received many honors and awards for the advancements she made in solar energy technologies.

What Do You Think? Would you like to do research to discover new ways to use solar energy? What kind of device would you make?

Photo Credit: Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-113268