Our Campus: Ann Makosinski invented a body-heat powered flashlight and a mug that charges your phone

As a young child, Ann Makosinski would spend hours tinkering and experimenting with her toys and other everyday objects around her to create her earliest inventions.  

“As a kid, I would make my own ‘inventions’ with a glue gun. There’s videos of me talking about my inventions, which were just these pieces of garbage glued together,” Makosinski recalled. “I was always creating things and I was also interested in electronics and cameras.”

Now a first-year Arts student, Makosinski is a renowned inventor and entrepreneur. She won the 2015 Sustainable Entrepreneurship Award of Excellence, which recognizes innovative business solutions to social problems — the same recognition was given to Barack Obama in 2014. Her two inventions — the Hollow Flashlight and the e-Drink — have been causing fervour internationally since their creation.

When Makosinski was 15 years old, she created a prototype for a flashlight powered by the heat of one’s hand.  This invention was the result of a ninth grade science project, but Makosinski’s goal was to provide a practical solution to people with unlimited access to power and electricity.

“I’m half-Filipino and half-Polish, and one of my friends from the Philippines told me that she failed school because she couldn’t afford electricity. She had no light to study with at night, so that was kind of the inspiration,” Makosinski explained. “I’ve always been interested in doing science projects, so I thought, ‘Why don’t I find a way to provide her and a lot of other people light?’”

The “Hollow Flashlight” is made from Peltier tiles that produce energy when one side is heated and the other side remains cool. Using only the warmth of the human hand, the flashlight can produce a steady beam of LED light for 20 minutes. It has since been recognized with multiple awards from the 2013 Canada-wide Science Fair, the 2013 Google Science Fair and the 2014 International Science and Engineering Fair.

As part of a 12th grade project, Makosinski then went on to create the “e-Drink,” a coffee mug that harvests the excess heat of a hot drink while it cools. A modified insulated mug, the e-Drink captures the thermal energy from the hot beverage, stores it as electricity in an internal battery and makes it available to charge an external device such as a phone. With the mug’s current battery, a personal device can receive a boost of up to 0.36 Wh, which can extend an iPhone’s life by approximately 10 to 30 minutes.

In addition to the average UBC student’s concerns like finding housing for the summer and finishing her first-year courses, Makosinski is also hoping to build on her work by collaborating with manufacturers and engineers in China to improve her flashlight’s brightness and maximize the circuit’s efficiency. Not being an engineer herself, Makosinski concentrates on her inventions’ design, but she’s also aiming to learn from the Chinese engineers.

"My favourite part of creating inventions would be when you sketch out the idea and you have to physically build it, and it doesn’t work out," Makosinski said. "So you have to figure out different ways to solve it. A lot of times, I’ll give up and I’ll come back after a couple of days and I’ll take it up again.” 

Harnessing her creativity and passion for writing, Makosinski is also working on two books — a cartoon series and a memoir — which have already caught publishers’ attention.

“The memoir is kind of making fun of the fact that I’m writing a memoir and I’m only 18,” said Makosinski. “It’s supposed to be on the humour side, but I know a lot of kids are interested in learning how I got here so I would like to show that I was completely ordinary, or just very weird, and tell stories and advice about my experience until now.”

Her advice to other student innovators? “Start now. There’s nothing holding you back.”

“Some students at colleges or universities or even in high school [think], ‘Oh, I’m a student in college, so I don’t need to do anything else. I just need to study and be social and that’s it.’ Truth is, you can do a lot of other things, you can do whatever you want,” Makosinski said. “If you want to make something, then go ahead. If there’s something you really want to do, you will make time for it and you will find time in the day to do your schoolwork. And just don’t be afraid to reach out to people.”