A 15-year-old Victoria girl's bright idea for a human-powered flashlight has landed her in the finals for the Google Science Fair.
Ann Makosinski designed the device – which she dubbed the Hollow Flashlight – to run off of heat produced by the palm of the user's hand.
She submitted the project on a whim and ended up beating out thousands of submissions from around the globe to land her among the top 15 finalists, and the only Canadian.
Of those 15, one winner from three age categories will be chosen to receive the grand prize, which includes a $50,000 scholarship, a trip to the Galapagos Islands and a $10,000 grant to the winner's school.
"It was a big surprise for me. I didn't expect my project to get this far at all," said the precocious Grade 10 student, who created the project for her local science fair, which she has entered for the past five years.
A few years ago, the St. Michaels University School student created a project that powered an MP3 player using the energy from a candle, and she had used Peltier tiles in previous projects.
Her interest this time around was on harvesting surplus energy, she said, and especially energy from humans.
"I decided to combine my past two ideas using the Peltier tiles to harvest the human energy and demonstrate the concept using a flashlight," she said.
The science behind the light is simple, Ms. Makosinski said. Peltier tiles produce electricity when heated on one side and cooled on the other.
The heat from the user's palm provides the heat on one side, while the ambient air is enough to cool the other.
Along with emergency situations, Ms. Makosinski said she believes the device could have other uses.
"I'd like to put it in places where people just don't have the access or the money to [receive] available electricity," she said.
"I also think the technology in itself has potential for other uses."
In September, Ms. Makosinski will join the other finalists at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., where they will take part in discussions, learn about the other projects and discover who will take home the top prize. Finalists include teens from the United States, India, Greece and Russia. Ms. Makosinski said she's most looking forward to meeting the other contestants and learning about their ideas.An only child, Ms. Makosinski said her parents have encouraged her to pursue scientific pursuits ever since she was a toddler. "Apparently my first toy was a box of transistors," she said with a laugh. Although neither parent holds a science degree, her father works in a lab at the University of Victoria and both parents made science and discovery an important part of her childhood, she said.
Ms. Makosinski has noticed the lack of female voices in the scientific realm and said it troubles her, though she believes there is starting to be more interest from her generation.
"We have ideas just as good as the guys and we shouldn't just be held down because of stereotypes," she said. "You just need to get up and just do it."