Posted on November 25 2015
This week's Wednesday Woman is awesome Ann Makosinski, teenage inventor. Her piezoelectric flashlight won Bronze at Canada-Wide Science Fair, and at 15, her Hollow Flashlight won the Google Science Fair Award 2013, Canada-Wide Science Fair Gold Medal and Energy Award 2013, and was also recognized at the 2014 Intel Science and Engineering Fair. Ann was also been named one of TIME's 30 Under 30, and has twice appeared on The Jimmy Fallon Show demoing her inventions.
Newnham: What were you like as a kid and when did your love for science become apparent?
Makosinski: As far as I can recall, as a kid I was loads of fun. Just kidding - I don’t remember a lot :P I think I was very odd, as I kind of resembled a female version of Harry Potter with my bowl hair cut and round glasses (and then I got braces later on in middle school as well, that was a really cool looking era of my life ha ha).
I wasn’t given many toys, wasn’t allowed to play video games, and had limited “play date” time with my friends, as well as limited time watching TV. I think this led to a very high build-up of curiosity, as I had to look for other ways to entertain myself. This included taking old electronics apart, making “inventions” out of garbage from around the house, playing piano, and making home-made videos. I would rephrase “your love for science” that you put in the question, to my “love for being creative” instead. I love both arts and sciences - to succeed in either you must have a healthy mix of both.
Newnham: Fair point. When did you start experimenting / inventing and what did your family and friends/peers make of it?
Makosinski: I think I was always doing SOMETHING as a kid; my parents taught me never to waste any time, because it was the one thing that you could not get back. My family has always been very supportive; they were the ones who encouraged me to “make” in the first place. My friends just probably thought I was super weird and boring because there was no Wii or cool toys to play with when they came over to my house!
Newnham: How did you come up with the idea for the Hollow Flashlight? And what was it like taking part/winning at the Google Science Fair?
Makosinski: I had been participating in our local science fair since I was in grade six, and my projects were mainly always in the energy harvesting field. I got the inspiration for my Hollow Flashlight project when one of my friends in the Philippines failed her grade in school because she couldn't afford electricity, so she didn’t have any light to study with at night (torch lights up via energy generated by heat from hands and is aimed specifically at children in countries and villages where families don't have, or can't afford, electricity).
The Google Science Fair was amazing - I never expected to actually get accepted and make it through to the final round in the first place. If you’ve watched The Internship, then you can basically imagine what Google Campus looks like, because it’s exactly like that! I remember riding one of the Google bikes around the area and being completely in awe. It was a shock to win as well, and a great honour to make my parents proud.
Newnham: You're a brilliant young role model for girls in STEM but how do you think we can encourage more girls into STEM fields?
Makosinski: To encourage more girls to enter STEM fields, it’s really up to the environment they're raised in, both at home and at school. If you want your kid to enter STEM, give them less toys and materialistic goods, don’t let them be consumed by what the media dictates (especially when they’re in the early teens), make them know that THEY have to fix less fortunate peoples problems, and that they can’t leave it up to other people to make and do everything for them anymore.
As a parent, I know it’s very tempting to give your child the world and whatever they want, but if you’re tough on them and don’t give them an iPad before they’re 15, it’ll actually pay off. Also if social media started talking more and more about how it’s cool to do STEM and about girls that are actually involved in STEM, instead of adding to stereotypes with shows like The Big Bang Theory (don’t get me wrong, I find it hilarious), that would also help. (Why are the younger Kardashian siblings the most looked up to when there are so many other girls, in STEM fields, that are doing useful things in the world that young girls could hear about and take example from?)
Also - school systems in the science department really need to have a second look. The way material in class is presented to kids, especially in the middle school area, could be made much more appealing.
Newnham: What are you most proud of and what's next for you? What are your ambitions from here?
Makosinski: The moment I am most proud of is when I saw a smile on my Dad's face after I won at the Google Science Fair, and after I graduated grade 12.
What's next? I’m not sure yet. I want to combine my love for film and creating things (science related), perhaps a TV show of sorts where I could inspire young kids would be great. Also at the moment, trying to get my inventions into production. Much harder than it looks :P