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Wonder Women Wednesdays: Maria Telkes

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Every couple of Wednesdays we will be featuring women who inspire us (regardless of whether they have mythological strength or wear spandex suits). It could be a historical figure, a friend, someone famous, or local, as long as they serve as an inspiration.

We would like to invite readers to email us with suggestions of women to feature. If your suggestion is accepted, your empowering woman will be featured on our blog, and on our social media outlets (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest).


This week we are focusing on Maria Telkes, the “Sun Queen”, accomplished scientist and solar energy advocate. Her focus on alternative energy sources came at a time when the field was almost completely dominated by men, and yet she proceeded to make history and lead the field with groundbreaking discoveries. She makes it look easy, but have no doubt that Maria Telkes worked her way past every obstacle to make her mark in history.

Born in Budapest, she earned a doctorate in physical chemistry. After working as an instructor in Budapest, she moved to the US after gaining a position at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation as a biophysicist in 1925.


Some of her many accomplishments include:

-Along with her colleague, she helped to invent a photoelectric mechanism capable of recording brain waves.

-She developed a solar salt-water still for the Navy in World War II, which saved countless soldiers’ lives.

-She spent many years experimenting with stoves that used solar energy for heat and were simple and cheap enough for use in poor regions with limited access to electricity. In her experimentations she also developed solar stills for use on land and on life rafts to distill drinking water from salt water, and thermal storage materials that were used in shipping temperature-sensitive instruments used in the Polaris, Minuteman and Apollo programs.

-She carried out research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University and the University of Pennsylvania, and many more.

-She also worked on an air-conditioning system in the 1970's that stored ''coolness'' at night for use the next day.

     


As if that wasn’t enough for one lifetime, perhaps her best-known accomplishment came in the 1940’s when she collaborated with architect Eleanor Raymond and investor Amelia Peabody to plan and build the first solar-heated residence. Using only solar energy, the five-room Massachusetts house stayed warm through the winter thanks to a chemical that crystallized and retained heat and then radiated it back to keep a constant temperature.

She was the recipient of numerous patents and awards during her lifetime, and was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

She passed away at 95 years old, but her contributions to alternative energy, will never be forgotten.

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