Mária Telkes was a Hungarian American scientist whose pioneering work in solar energy spawned many inventions, including the first solar-powered house, earning her the nickname the “Sun Queen.”
For her contributions to science, Google on Monday dedicated an animated Doodle to Telkes on her 122nd birthday. The Doodle demonstrates just a few of the ways we can harness solar energy, including her inventions for the solar oven, solar heating system and a solar-powered desalination unit for making seawater potable.
Born in Budapest on Dec. 12, 1900, Telkes earned a bachelor’s degree and Ph.D in chemistry from the University of Budapest before moving to the US in 1924 to work as a biophysicist at Westinghouse, where she worked on metal alloys for helping convert heat into electricity. In 1939, she went to work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she joined the university’s Solar Energy Conversion Project.
During World War II, the US government recruited Telkes to develop a solar-powered water desalination machine — a lifesaving invention that allowed soldiers to have safe drinking water in situations where access was difficult or non-existent. After the war, she returned to MIT, becoming an associate research professor at MIT in 1945.
While at MIT, she designed a solar heating system for the Dover Sun House, the first livable building ever heated entirely by the sun. She went on to work at New York University, where she developed a solar-powered oven still in use today that allows people who lack access to electricity to prepare warm meals.
In 1952, she was the first recipient of the Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award, and in 2012, she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Telkes died in 1995 at the age of 94 while making her first visit of her hometown of Budapest since moving the US 70 years earlier.
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