Ann Makosinski had herself a year.
The just-turned 16-year-old from Victoria was named to TIME Magazine’s 30 under 30 for 2013. This after she won her age group at Google’s Science Fair in California – an accolade she got by inventing a flashlight that runs off heat from the human hand, a self-made product that’s patent-pending. She has been featured by major news agencies like the Huffington Post and Mashable and she’s fielding interview requests from Europe, the United States, and Japan.
And she still has to worry about 16-year-old things.
“I’m trying to survive my schooling,” she said last Friday, on January 3, only a weekend away from returning to Grade 11 at Victoria’s St. Michaels University School.
Makosinski, who also plays piano and violin, is involved in field hockey and cross-country, is entering Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair, is preparing to judge Canada’s next crop of projects for Google’s 2014 ‘Doodle for Google’ and will be speaking at TEDxEdmonton.
“It’s just a part of life. You have to get to all the things that come up,” she says. “In university, it’ll be even more work, more school work.”
Makosinski’s now world-famous flashlight – the Hollow (Thermoelectric) Flashlight – was created after a conversation with an overseas friend, a pal from the Philippines who was struggling in school.
“She was really smart,” Makosinski says. “She said she didn’t have any electricity at home, so she couldn’t study after doing her house chores because she didn’t have any light to see.
“I thought, why not create a flashlight that works on the thermal energy of humans?”
That she did, using Peltier tiles to generate electricity, building power off the difference in heat between a person’s hand and the other, cooled or cooler side of the tile. She tested her idea with candles, drawing out an electric charge and proving to herself the tiles had potential.
(*Photos of the hollow flashlight are at the bottom of this article.)
“I think I powered an mp3 player from that, so that was an idea that I could use them again,” Makosinski says of the tiles, adding that she first used them for another project in Grade 7.
“But I needed some way to boost the voltage. That was the hardest part of my project, the most complicated.”
By the project’s completion, Makosinski has said the hollow flashlight could produce a beam of LED light for 20 minutes.
Invention in hand, the teen went through her local science fair last April – the same fair she had been entering since she was in Grade 6 – and then to a Canada-wide bracket.
Her teacher suggested Google’s Science Fair to her and she applied, posting a video on YouTube as part of her submission.
“A quick, two-minute video,” she calls it (watch it just below). “We posted it on my channel. After a few months it has 200 views. I thought, “Yay! 200 views!”
“After the 90 regional finalists were announced, I got more views. After making the 15 finalists, that’s when the views kind of exploded.”
The video was published on April 30, 2013 on her personal channel, ‘Queenie Andini’.
As of January 7, 2014, Makosinki’s YouTube audition has racked up over 1,561,500 views.
(Her official video submission, published on the Science Fair’s YouTube channel, has also topped 137,500 views.)
“I think when something really takes off by surprise like that, it’s really nice,” she said last Friday. “I’ve read every single comment, seeing that there was a lot of support, seeing that people were really interested in it has really kept me going.”
Within a couple months, Makosinski was on Google’s campus in Mountain View, California.
“It’s just absolutely amazing there,” she says. “We got a tour of the campus and we got a ride in their self-driven cars.
“Google is just such an open place when you go there, and the atmosphere is that anything is really possible. Everyone is really motivated.”
Competing in the Age 15-16 category, Makosinski joined impressive entrants and intimidating inventions from all over the globe.
Although she received plenty of press even before heading down to California – from both Canadian journalists and American news agencies – Makosinski says she was shocked when she won her competition.
“I didn’t really understand it,” she said. “I went around and looked at their projects, and they were way more complicated than mine, so I had no idea why I got it.
“It was a complete shock when I got the award… but then it was me and it was really weird.”
Makosinski says she took a good long look at everyone else’s projects and was in awe of all they created. One girl, Elif Bilgin from Turkey, found a way to create bioplastics from banana peels. Eric Chen, a 17-year-old American, invented a new anti-flu medicine. American teen Esha Maiti discovered a ‘better understanding of tumours’ and Greek 18-year-old Charalampos Ioannou devised a ‘metallic exoskeleton globe’ to support and enhance the movement of the human palm. (*Take a look at all of the Google Science Fair’s finalists here.)
But when the winners were announced, Makosinski was welcomed into the winners’ circle, one of three to be honoured together at the Science Fair’s grand prize ceremony.
She was also the competition’s only Canadian.
“I was thrilled to represent Canada at such a prestigious event,” Makosinski said. “It was great… weird being the only Canadian but seeing all the nationalists come together was great.
“I was really nervous about it, thinking, ‘I hope Canada doesn’t get its hopes up too much.’
“My project was so simple.”
Simple, perhaps, but her invention resonated with people. It resonated with Google’s judges and it resonated with everyone who saw her video online.
And it hasn’t stopped there.
“I am in contact with a few companies right now, so it perhaps might be on the market down the road in a few years,” she said on Friday.
She says she’s also looking to keep her momentum running through 2014 and is chasing a patent for her flashlight’s design.
“I’m trying to make it brighter right now,” she says, “to make the voltage more efficient. It needs to be brighter to compete with flashlights using batteries.”
She’s also trying to start a non-profit company of her own and wants to keep hold of the legal rights to her flashlight, which would enable her to help students and others like her friend in the Philippines.
“For every amount of flashlights sold, I could set aside some flashlights to give to people in need, people in the Philippines or developing countries that need it to study or work,” she says. “I also hope to see these flashlights in emergency kits.”
Makosinski says she still keeps in touch with her fellow 2013 contestants, routinely chatting with them over Google Hangouts.
And, of course, high school graduation and university are on her immediate horizon. She’s still interested in science fairs and says she will probably study Sciences when she gets to university.
“I know I’m supposed to figure out what I’m interested in choosing as a career, but I’m still deciding,” she said.
“I have a lot to get through and these next few months, I have to really find my passion.”
Whatever she chooses and whatever route or direction she takes, it’s clear Makosinski’s ingenuity has been passed down.
During World War II, her grandfather had a patent filed for a “transparent windshield wiper,” she says.
She also has a passion for film, an interest she inherited from her father, who went to film school and has also long been into electronics.
“He taught me all the basics so I could get a little boost,” she says. “I find, if it wasn’t for my parents being really enthusiastic from a young age for my scientific interests, if it wasn’t for them giving me that first push in Grade 6 to do my local science fair, then none of this would have happened.
“It’s really important to have that support.”
PHOTOS: The Hollow Flashlight, and Makosinski at work in her room