Many of us stash a flashlight for emergencies, only to find that when the time comes to use it, the batteries have run out. The problem of how to achieve efficient, lightweight energy storage plagues everything from flashlights to electric cars. But what if you could bypass it altogether? That’s what Ann Makosinski of Canada has done with her Hollow Flashlight, which won the 15-16 age group category of the Google Science Fair on Monday. Makosinksi’s flashlight runs on four Peltier tiles, which convert heat into energy using the temperature differential between a person’s hand and the ambient air.

“I chose to investigate the aspect of human energy when I found out that we are like walking 100-watt light bulbs,” wrote Makosinski, 15, in her project brief. Makosinski, who is from British Columbia, Canada, imagined her design being used in classroom seats to power schools, on wireless medical sensors, or to charge cell phones.

National Geographic is a partner in the Google fair, which also awarded prizes to research projects on traffic regulation and the influenza virus. Winners in each age category received scholarship funds and other prizes. Check out Makosinski’s video, where she describes her winning project.

Comments

  1. David Rahrer
    Florida, US
    August 29, 10:42 pm

    While I don’t mean to take away from the work of this student – I’m sure she is very bright – I am somewhat bewildered by the volume of praise in this instance. This has certainly been done before. I saw a similar (albeit more primitive) example in the mid 1970s. I believe the heat engine circuitry was designed and built by Honeywell as a prototype for someone who wanted to use it for another application. It worked quite well, though the LEDs of the time were dim and the output was low, something which appears to plague the device in the article as well.

    I played around with this in my teens after seeing the example I just explained. The biggest problem is the incredible inefficiency of the thermoelectric generator, though the low voltage, as the student discovered, can be overcome with modern components. The effect itself was first discovered almost 200 years ago and is used in spacecraft and other devices where efficiency is not as important as dependability. In those cases a bit of radioactive material is the source of the heat.

    More efficient thermoelectric generators will have to be developed to make this type of device practical, but it is a reasonably interesting project for a 15 year old. The accolades being heaped upon her, however, seem more in line with a truly new and dramatic discovery or invention.

  2. Dan Strub
    Lompoc, CA
    February 20, 10:49 pm

    I just saw this young lady on The Tonight Show and I was very impressed with both her and her invention. Articulate, intelligent, and, as you can judge by her invention, very pragmatic. It’s great to know there are young people like her in this world. Go Ann!

  3. Thelma Garcia
    Southern California
    November 7, 2013, 7:02 pm

    All hands … more power in the hand of the young
    lady. :-) I hope she’s also awarded the patent to her invention.

  4. Sarah Hall
    London
    October 17, 2013, 3:41 am

    Agree with Carol M – what a brilliant role model she is, especially for girls/women in science. Fantastic work, and a natural at presenting it.

  5. Rick Narveson
    Oxnard CA
    September 27, 2013, 8:54 pm

    Duracell and Eveready look out. Google will hire this young lady and the battery business will go the way of Kodak, Polaroid, and dinosaurs.

    She’s brilliant!

  6. Carol M.
    Western WA
    September 26, 2013, 3:31 pm

    If our lives are in the ‘hands’ (pun intended!) of young people like her, there is great hope for our planet as we phase out expensive and dirty sources of fuel in the coming decades! Congratulations and keep on thinking. Miss Makosinksi! And these those around you as well!

  7. ANIL KALANGOT MANGOOL
    INDIA
    September 26, 2013, 12:24 pm

    LET US ALL STAND ON OUR ROOFTOPS AND SHOUT ABOUT THIS YOUNG LITTLE GENIUS FROM CANNADA HAS INVENTED.THE FUTURE OF OUR PLANET LIES IN THE HANDS OF MISS MAKOSINKSI AND PEOPLE LIKE HER

  8. Elaine Crowell
    Victoria, BC
    September 25, 2013, 5:36 am

    Very impressive work!