Few people have been on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show. Canadians, even fewer.
How many of those same people have been on Fallon twice? I don’t know, but they’re lucky. One of them is Ann Makosinski, an 18-year-old inventor from Victoria and a first-year student at the University of British Columbia.
“I’ve been very lucky, and it was a lot of fun,” she said, over the phone from her dorm in Vancouver. “The crew, everyone there remembered me. It was a great experience, just going to New York in general. It was a lot of fun.”
In 2013 and 2014, Makosinski made international headlines as the winner of her age group at the Google Science Fair. Her invention – the hollow flashlight, powered only by the heat of the human hand – made headlines, too. It was complex and simple, brilliant and obvious at the same time.
With the flashlight came other accolades, with profiles in several major international and American media outlets, a place in TIME magazine’s 30 Under 30, and a chance to star in prime-time.
She got to riff with Jimmy on the Tonight Show that year, showing off her flashlight. And in October, she debuted her new creation – the eDrink – on the show, as well, and Fallon even remembered her from her first appearance.
“Jimmy Fallon was charming, as per usual, and asked which university I was going to,” she said. “He took a selfie with me after the show.”
Ann’s flashlight invention came about because she was trying to help her friend in the Philippines, who said she couldn’t study properly for high school because she didn’t have enough access to electricity. Awards and a certain form of fame followed, and she’s hoping a patent will be finalized for the flashlight soon.
It would have been easy for her to just focus on graduating high school, maybe taking a gap year, or moving on up to university.
But easy wasn’t on the agenda, and the eDrink is. Along with her studies, of course, which she’s been balancing with her scientific entrepreneurialism for the past two years.
“That’s one of the earliest prototypes of the drink,” she said, of the model she debuted with Fallon. “It’s hard when I’m at school, but I do want to keep working on that. I definitely want to get that into production.”
As you can see in the video above, the eDrink is a thermos that takes the heat from your drink and turns it into energy that can charge a phone, or (seemingly) anything else with the right USB.
Like the battery-free flashlight, the eDrink – which won fourth place at this year’s Intel science fair – was also created to cure a couple inconveniences. There are two things college students carry like a badge – coffee and their cell phone. You’re often waiting for one to cool off and for the other to charge up, so why not kill two birds with one stone? (And just maybe, she can invent a humane way to do that, too.)
“Inventions are born out of a need or a problem,” she said. “My friends are always drinking coffee, so why not combine that?”
Because her inventions so far have centred around turning heat into electricity, Makosinski also celebrated another accomplishment recently – she said she’s been named the face of Uniqlo, a massively popular and expanding Japanese retailer, and their new fleece product.
“It’s kind of a global campaign, which is insane,” she said.
“So that was super-surreal. It was a lot of fun on the shoot.”
The fleece ad’s theme is to show something that captures human heat and uses it for something else, Makosinski says, reciting the near definition of what her hollow flashlight does.
“I think it will be something that always follows me around,” she said, of the flashlight. “So I have to keep that in mind and make sure I dedicate part of my day to working on that.”
But of course, there are other practical tasks at-hand – she’s a brand-new student at one of Canada’s most revered universities, so she’s settling into both the campus, a new city, and an adult life, all while she’s keeping the laboratory alive.
“I’m just trying to manage my time, I try to get up really early,” she said. “You have to do your laundry and learn and take care of yourself.
“I think it’ll always be a struggle for me because I’m not a straight-A student or a genius or whatever, I’m not like that. School has always been a struggle for me, with or without any extracurricular attention or anything like that.”
And of course, the more she invents, the more she wows us – her audience and her home crowd. And the more the audience expects.
“It’s pressure,” she said. “It’s nice having attention but at the same time, it puts pressure on you.”
So how do you shoehorn all that into the tiny 24 hours the day allows? Of course, it’s a one-day-at-a-time sorta thing, she said.
“I think you have to take everything in milestones, and getting to the next and going from there.”
VIDEO: Google Science Fair: Meet Ann Makosinski
VIDEO: The Problem with Inventions, by Ann Makosinski (TEDx Victoria)