Telkes, Maria

Maria Telkes

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Dates of Birth and Death

December 12, 1900-December 2, 1995


Budapest, Hungary


  • Budapest University

Years of practice

1930–1985 (estimated)


Maria Telkes, also known as the “Sun Queen” devoted her life to the research of solar energy and made numerous contributions in solar heating building technology.

Born, raised, and educated in Hungary, Telkes studied physical chemistry at Budapest University, where she received a B.A. n 1920 and a PhD in 1924. Telkes did not come to the United States until 1925 and did not become a United States citizen until 1937. However, upon visiting the United States with her uncle in 1925, Telkes was hired as a biophysicist by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

While in the United States, Telkes researched applications of solar energy at many renowned universities including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University, and the University of Delaware. While researching with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Solar Energy Conversion Project in 1939, Telkes developed a revolutionary solar heating system that was later installed in a house in Dover, Massachusetts. The US Government noted her progress with solar power and later recruited her to develop a water filtering system propelled by solar power, a system that was successful and implemented for use in the Virgin Islands.

Some of the projects involving the principles of semiconductor thermoelectricity for which Telkes is best known include her development of the first thermoelectric power generator in 1947, the first thermoelectric refrigerator in 1953, and the development of packaging materials for temperature-sensitive instruments in 1963.

Maria Telkes was recognized in 1977 by the National Academy of Science Building Research Advisory Board for her extensive research and progress in the field of solar heated building technology. She eventually retired from research and spent the rest of her life up until a few years before her death in 1995 working as a consultant.

Major Buildings and Projects

1947- Thermoelectric Power Generator

1948- Developed Solar Heating System

1953- Thermoelectric Refrigerator

1953- Organized Solar Energy Lab in NYU’s College of Engineering

1963- Packaging Materials for Temperature-Sensitive Instruments