Throughout her career as a physical chemist and biophysicist she invented many devices based on solar energy and is best known for her inventions of the solar distiller and solar powered heating systems. Before her solar years, Telkes had an interesting background. Having graduated from the University of Budapest with a BA in 1920 and a PhD in 1924, she landed her first job as an instructor at the university.
Later, Maria decided to immigrate to the United States and soon after obtained a position as a biophysicist for the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Telkes worked with American surgeon George Washington Crile, to invent a photoelectric mechanism that could record brain waves. That same year Telkes received her citizenship and became a research engineer at Westinghouse Electric where she would begin developing instruments to convert heat into electrical energy.
It was not until after that she began her true research on solar energy. Telkes began her research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as part of a team where they developed thermoelectric devices powered by sunlight but was soon transferred to the US office of Scientific Research and Development. Here Telkes created her most important invention for the Navy, a solar distiller, a mechanism capable of evaporating seawater and condensing it into drinkable water. Telkes devoted her career to working with solar energy, creating various inventions that would help thousands of people. Until the end of her career, Telkes would develop solar energy applications and received several patents for her work.
At a time when it was rare for a woman to pursue a career, let alone in science, Maria was a trailblazer who left an indelible mark in her field. Additionally, she is inspiring because her career path shows that one’s focus and areas of interest can change over a lifetime and isn’t set in stone.