If you haven't already heard of the hollow flashlight, you will in the future. You'll also hear a lot more about its 15-year-old inventor.
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. The concept of the WorldWideWeb is really a simple idea, so too is that of the hollow flashlight, but that is where the similarity ends, because the amount of thought that went into the latter is no mean feat, and the fact that its inventor is only 15 years old beggars belief.
Although this story was all over the news last week, it remains to be seen if anyone has taken in its full ramifications.
Using the human body to produce small quantities of electrical energy is far from new, as for example the batteryless bicycle light developed by a Chinese computer consultant from his London home. And Ann Makosinski's invention goes one better because it doesn't need peddle power, but simply, in a word, body heat. Heck, that's two words, but you get the point. Here is the lady, well, the girl, in her own words.
Alexander Baron: Thank you for giving us your time. Can I ask you first, are you really only 15?
Ann Makosinski: Yes I am really 15 years old! My birthday is on October 3, 1997 for confirmation, ahaha!
AB: You have done quite a lot of research. I hesitate to ask, but what is your background?
AM: I am still a high school student, so I don’t really have any jobs or anything like that! AM: Well, I do work at a math tutoring company called Kumon, but that’s about it. But yes, I had to do a lotttt of research, it took up so much of my time!
AB: Although your flashlight – or torch as we call it here – works on an extremely simple principle, most people would agree this is Nobel Prize material. What inspired you to come up with it, and why don't you think anyone has done this before?
AM: Really? I would never have thought so at all but thank you!! Well, I did a project in grade 7 for my Vancouver Island Regional Science Fair, that powered a radio from the wasted heat of a candle, and last year I made a flashlight that lit LED’s with piezoelectricity. Realizing that I was definitely interested in harvesting surplus energy, specifically energy from humans I decided to this year combine what I had learned from my past projects and designed a device that used heat from the hand, and converted it into useful energy that powered a flashlight. The Seebeck Principle is actually a very old principle, dating back to the 1800s, so we can’t be sure that no-one has indeed created a light using Peltier tiles. However, I believe the unique part of my invention would probably be the hollow design which allows for maximum convection currents, as well as perhaps my circuit.
AB: Although this won't make batteries obsolete overnight, it obviously has Earth-shattering potential for saving energy and for developing new, clean, cheap technologies, certainly the people at Google are impressed. How do you see it being developed and are you adopting a hands-on approach?
[Just in case you haven't heard, Google is the company Margaret Hodge called evil].
AM: To make it commercially available, tweaks in its efficiency and appearance are required to produce a brighter light and keep the cost low. I need to do more research on the actual heat transfer process to ensure the maximum capability per square centimeter.
AB: Have you applied for a patent?
AM: I am in the process.
AB: What sort of interest have you had so far, commercially?
None right now, but I am considering applying to appear on Dragons' Den to raise funds for further development.
AB: How would you like to see it developed?
AM: The first use would be as an emergency flashlight in emergency kits. I would also like to see it as a light source for people in countries and places where electricity is not available or too expensive to install.
AB: What are you going to invent next?
AM: I have some ideas for developing items in the medical area.
AB: Are you related to the inventor Arthur Makosinski?
My Dad would be flattered to be called an inventor! He was named in a couple of medical patents ten or fifteen years ago. My mother enjoys inventing new dishes and chores for me to do.
AB: Last year, a group of schoolgirls in Nigeria came up with an electric generator powered by urine. That may sound bizarre but people of your age, especially girls, seem to get these weird but incredible ideas. Have you learned to think outside the box, or are you even aware there is a box? How would you suggest we stimulate this sort of off-beat but potentially world changing thinking?
AM: I believe you can’t be blinded by the amazing technology around you. You have to think of it always as inadequate, and come up with ideas to improve it. You’ve got to get up and as Nike so creatively put it, Just Do It. You can’t just sit around waiting for new technologies to evolve and for the Earth to save itself! We all have different but important roles to play in this world!
Definitely an old head on young shoulders. It could be she is a one-trick pony, but don't count on it. Expect to see the hollow flashlight patented soon. And don't be surprised if she does win that Nobel Prize at some point, if unlike the current writer you live long enough to see it.