MIT Institute Archives & Special Collections

Resource for Energy Research

The Peter E. Glaser Papers, 1944-2000

The MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections recently processed 96 boxes of historical material donated by Peter E. Glaser, a noted pioneer in the study of solar energy. Born in Czechoslovakia, Glaser came to the United States in 1948 and earned an M.S. and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Columbia University. He spent much of his career at Arthur D. Little, working on consulting projects ranging from aerospace to materials science to solar energy. He was, for example, the project manager for NASA's Apollo 11 Laser Ranging Retroreflector Array. In the late 1960s he invented the concept of a solar power satellite as a means of harnessing solar energy for transmission to Earth and published his ideas in the journal Science in November 1968. Drawing on his expertise in space science and technology, solar energy conversion, and wireless power transmission, Glaser became an energetic advocate of solar power satellite systems as a solution to the global energy dilemma.


L. to R.: Peter E. Glaser, museum director Bradford Washburn, and William C. Brown
at the Boston Museum of Science

The photograph reproduced here shows Glaser explaining to a group of children how his proposed technology for collecting and channeling solar energy to Earth would work. In essence, the plan would call for satellites in geosynchronous orbit, each composed of lightweight solar cells. Each satellite would be a large solar collector that could produce electricity. The electricity would be fed to microwave generators arranged in the shape of antennae that could direct beams to receiving stations on Earth, where the energy could be safely converted back into electricity.

Glaser's dedication to solar power is rooted in his well-founded belief that the Earth's environment has suffered because of poor planning and overuse of fossil fuels. As he noted in 1972, "Against the background of evolutionary history, man may be judged not only on a civilization advanced through the exploitation of the primary planetary resources available to him, but on the technology he developed which allowed him to use the energy available to his planet from the sun..." In a similar spirit, MIT's President Susan Hockfield and former Provost Robert Brown announced in the spring of 2005 that the Institute would establish an Energy Research Council to address the world's rapidly expanding energy problems.

The Peter E. Glaser Papers (MC 569), documenting his interest in the commercialization of space, engineering in general, and other topics in addition to solar energy, are available for research in the MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections, Room 14N-118. The processing of this collection was made possible by a gift from Dr. Glaser.

Object of the Month: December 2005

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