Share it! Science : Inventions for a Brighter Future

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Inventions for a Brighter Future

     Ann Makosinski is a teenage inventor from Victoria, BC, Canada. She embodies the type of drive and thoughtful innovation that gives me faith for our future. Last year, at the ripe old age of 15, Ann won the Google Science Fair in the 15-16 year old category. Her invention is elegantly simple, yet incredibly utilitarian. She invented a flashlight that is powered by the heat of your own hand. Ann was inspired by friends in the Philippines who were unable to do their homework once it was dark because they had no electricity. Ann knew that this was the case in many parts of the world. She was interested in tapping into the potential of human thermal energy. Ann's flashlight is an aluminum tube lined with Peltier tiles. Peltier tiles are made of two different types of metal and generate a current when one side is heated and the other cooled. When you hold the flashlight the heat from your hand warms one side of the tile, while the other side is cooled by the ambient air. She made her prototype for $26 and it could maintain a strong beam of light for 20 minutes. Her flashlight works with no batteries, no mechanical energy (like cranking), as soon as you pick it up- it lights up. Brilliant. Since winning the Google competition she has begun to work with engineers to increase the brightness output to be more comparable with other flashlights. Until then it is not marketable, but a solution is within reach.
     It has only been fairly recently when scientists and engineers have looked into using body heat as a power source. It is difficult, as our thermal energy is not strong enough to run most devices. Possible applications may be power sources for hearing aids, or pacemakers.

     Ann is just one of a growing group of young inventors and makers. Google is not the only high stakes contest available for innovative kids; others include the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, Microsoft's Imagine Cup, Toshiba's Exploravision, and the Intel Science Talent Search. In an age where it is easy to imagine creativity being squashed by so much clicking, swiping and staring at screens it is exciting to see all of the incredible things the next generation of citizens are producing.     
     Invention challenges are only one piece of the innovation puzzle. As we become more plugged in, many people yearn to create in three dimensions. I believe it is innately human to innovate. Kids and adults are becoming more involved in the maker and DIY movements. Maker spaces are becoming available for people to share in the use of tools, equipment and technology to build and create their own inventions. From knitting and canning to carpentry and electronics, magazines, books and websites featuring ideas and directions for do-it-yourself projects are all the rage. It seems that the more "advanced" we become with our gadgets the more we miss engaging our minds and hands.                               
     I was inspired and filled with hope in reading about Ann and other young inventors. With a little creativity and ambition, the possibilities are truly infinite.

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