Saanich girl wins big at Google fair for flashlight powered by body heat

A 15-year-old Saanich student who invented a flashlight powered by body heat is heading home today from California with a prestigious prize — and an opportunity to expand on her work.

St. Michaels University School student Ann Makosinski was the sole Canadian among the four winners at Google’s annual international science fair, beating out thousands of other young scientists from around the world.

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She walked away with a yellow Lego trophy for the 15-16 age category at Monday’s awards gala.

A company has expressed interest in Ann’s invention but she can’t say much about it due to a confidentiality agreement.

Winning the international contest was “a total shock” — she didn’t change her clothes or comb her hair for the announcement, Ann said from San Francisco.

“I definitely think it will have an impact on my future.”

Ann, who attended the gala with her father, Arthur, had entered on a lark. In Saanich on Tuesday, her mother Sandra said she was proud of her daughter.

“I’m so happy for her that she at least had a positive experience,” Sandra said.

“Hopefully, it will lead her into the sciences.”

Ann credited her family for encouraging her interest in science, telling the judges that her first toy was a box of transistors.

She also thanked St. Michaels’ science club teacher Kate Paine, who guides the school’s science fair team.

“It’s kind of humbling,” Paine said Tuesday. “It’s incredible that someone that age can come up with something so amazing.”

Ann’s prize includes a $25,000 scholarship and a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” from either the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Lego or Google for her Hollow Flashlight, which has no moving parts or batteries.

Ann created the flashlight for a local science fair. The inspiration for the invention came from seeing discarded batteries and after visits to the Philippines, where she saw the need for a battery-free flashlight.

A friend at school there failed in her studies because of a lack of electricity and light to study when it became dark.

In her project, Ann wrote that she “made two flashlights that do not use any batteries, toxic chemicals, or kinetic energy. They do not create any noise or vibrations and will always work. The flashlight’s only limitation is its need for at least a 5° C temperature difference to provide usable light.”

A YouTube video of Ann explaining how she created the flashlight has been viewed more than 1.4 million times.

Despite her success, the private school student is undecided about her career path. Ann hopes she can find a way to incorporate her love of film with science, but adds she can’t commit to a career yet: “I’m only in Grade 11.”

The four winners were chosen from 15 finalists from eight countries. The contest attracted thousands of entries from students in 120 countries.

Other winners included grand prize winner Eric Chen, a 17-year-old from the United States who worked on a new flu medicine, 16-year-old Elif Bilgin of Turkey, who created bioplastics from banana peels, and 14-year-old Viney Kumar of Australia and his new signalling system for emergency vehicles.

— with a file from the Canadian Press

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