On Campus

Google Science Fair winner, 15, wants to start a company

B.C. teen invented flashlight for developing countries

Ann Makosinski is becoming a master of managing her time.

After taking the top prize in her age group at Google’s annual science fair, the high school student has been fielding inquiries from companies interested in her project, juggling homework and extra curriculars with speaking engagements, and still finding time for the occasional pizza night with friends.

“I’ve just been super busy,” said the bubbly 15-year-old. “I’ve just had to be like, ok I already have way too much on my plate, I just have to try and balance what I can manage currently.”

Makosinski beat out thousands of young scientists at Google’s international competition earlier this year by inventing a flashlight powered by body heat.

Since then, the Victoria resident has been trying to improve her design while conducting discussions with corporations who have reached out to her.

Makosinski is also trying to start a non-profit company around her flashlight and is attempting to get a patent for her design as well — all efforts which seem pricey and time consuming, but the teen is determined to make sure her invention is available to those who need it.

“This is all from my own pocket, no one’s been paying me to make more of the flashlights or do anything like that,” she explains.

“I would like to keep the rights to my flashlight as I would wish to also distribute it, perhaps for free in emergency kits or to people in Third World countries, which is what I had originally designed my flashlight for.”

Makosinski was inspired to make the flashlight after learning that a friend in the Philippines failed a grade because she didn’t have any electricity to power the lights that would have enabled her to study at night.

“I know lots of people have this problem,” she said. “I wanted something that could help them out and that was always constant, always there.”

The device she calls the “Hollow Flashlight” is made up of special tiles that generate electricity if they are heated from one side — by the palm of the hand — and cooled from the other, by air flowing through a hollow aluminum tube that runs through the centre of the device. The flashlight needs a five degree temperature differential to work.

The big win and the interest it has drawn means Makosinski now has to plot her time very carefully to make sure she meets all her commitments.

“I know I only have a certain amount every night and I try to get enough sleep. It doesn’t happen all the time, but I’m trying,” she said with a laugh, explaining that she charts out her time hour-by-hour in a little notebook every afternoon.

The B.C. teen’s public profile continues to grow as well.

She spoke at two TedX conferences after the Google Science Fair, and will be on a panel of judges selecting finalists for Google’s Canadian doodle contest next year. She’s also been asked to make speeches locally about her winning project.

“I was never asked to speak at anything before the Google science fair so it’s definitely been quite a change,” she said. “Knowing that people took the time out of their day to listen to what you have to say is just great.”

Makosinski credits her interest in science to her obsession with bugs as a very young child. That gave way to a habit of gathering garbage from around the house, gluing them together and creating “inventions.”

“This idea of creating things was always there,” she said. “I’ve always been very curious, I’ve always asked about things, like why does this happen, how does this work?”

That curiosity led her to become a science fair regular, participating in them since she was in Grade 6.

“You can expand and study whatever you want to study in science fair,” said the teen who is now in Grade 11. “Science fair has been kind of a way for me to express my curiosity and hopefully helping people out on the way.”

Makosinski points out, however, that winning at science fairs does not mean she is a science whiz.

“I still have the same difficulties that everyone else does,” she said. “With science fair students, people think ‘oh they’re so smart,’ but in reality we’re just really interested and we take initiative with our interests.”

While Makosinski knows she wants to study something science-related at university, for now she’s happy to keep perfecting her inventive flashlight in the hopes that it’s getting others to think of ways to harvest energy from the human body.

“I’m just very glad I’ve been able to inspire a few people,” she said. “I think that’s what really changed my life, now I’m more conscious of my actions and how I spend my time.”

—Diana Mehta

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