Teen's 'hollow flashlight' could bring light to Third World

Ann Makosinski has graduated from creating cameras with household scraps to inventing an award-winning light source that turns on with only the warmth of your hand. 

It's been a busy past few weeks for 15-year-old science whiz Ann Makosinski.  

The Victoria, British Columbia teen is garnering plenty of international attention for her hollow flashlight, which operates solely on the warmth of the hand. The invention made her the winner of her age category in last week's Google Science Fair, and has even sparked talks with an interested company. 

Between her TedX speech in Washington and interview with National Geographic, Ann is getting back into the swing of life as a regluar high school student--even as a crew from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation films her during physics class.

Why all the buzz? Ann might have just brought light to the third world.

That's one way to describe the battery-free flashlight, which uses Peltier tiles that produce electricity from a difference in temperature. Ann says she got the idea when she noticed one of her friends in the Philippines saw her grades fall because she did not have light to study with at night. 

"I know a lot of people around the world have these problems where there's just no light, no electricity, nothing," she told the Monitor.  "So I thought, 'Why not try and solve this problem a little step at a time?'"

Peltier tiles are a common thermoelectric tool that produce electricity when one side is heated and the other remains cool – a phenomenon called the Seebeck effect. 

But the catch is keeping one side warm and the other cool, all within the space of only a flashlight.

"I had to somehow take away enough heat from the hand, but I didn't want to take all of it away at once, so I had to find a way to insulate the rest of the hand," she says. 

Ann says she stuck with an aluminum tube as a sufficient heat sink. 

"In my case, I heat one side with the palm of my hand and I cool the other side with the ambient air and a hollow aluminum tube," Ann says, "allowing for maximum air convection currents to flow through and around the tube cooling the Peltier tile even further."

 Both Ann and her father Arthur were shocked when she was pronounced the winner, particularly because the competition was so impressive. 

"When her name came up I almost dropped the camera," says her father. "I never expected her to win. I just thought the other projects were so much more sophisticated and developed."

Ann receives a $25,000 scholarship from Google for her education, where in the future she insists she'll definitely be studying science.

"She didn't say that before she went," Arthur jokes. But her interest in science dates back to well before her YouTube video on the flashlight created a social media stir. 

"When I was small, I used to take pieces of garbage from around the house and piece them together and glue them together with my glue gun," she says. "I used to create cameras or things like that. Of course they never worked, but i always had this idea of creating things and reusing stuff that's available."

Arthur says his daughter was always handy with a screwdriver.

"All our hard drives have been taken apart, and all the printers," he says. 

Ann has entered her local regional science fair since sixth grade, and created a piezoelectric flashlight that received bronze at her first Canadian nationwide fair.

Ann balances her interest in science with many others: as a member of the cross country team and a math tutor at Kumon, she maintains a variety of hobbies. Not to mention one of her favorite subjects has actually always been English. 

As talks with a company interested in her flashlight begin soon, Ann wants to remain true to the purpose of her project. 

"I'd like to also get it out to the public, but I think my main first priority would be getting it to people who really need it," she says.

Ann says she's not sure what she'll invent in the future, although she has some ideas. 

"I think everything starts with an idea," she says. "No matter how crazy it is, you should always try to bring it to life."

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