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Ann Makosinski, CEO, Makotronics Enterprises Inc.

Photo courtesy of Giullian Yao Gioiello.

Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30, Time Magazine’s 30 Under 30 World Changers, and Entrepreneur Magazine’s Young Millionaires are just a few of the lists that Ann Makosinski has landed on as a highly sought-after inventor. A proponent of bringing art and science together, she has invented a flashlight that uses the thermal energy from the human hand to generate power, and a mug that powers mobile phones through the excess heat of a hot beverage!

The Edge chatted with Makosinski about her inventions and where her passion for alternative renewable energy sources stems from. Moreover, she also talked about how art and science can impact the world and shared her thoughts on higher education.

Where did you find the passion for developing alternative renewable energy options?

The interest for me developed out of my participation in the Vancouver Island Regional Science Fair (VIRSF). After my first project in grade six, all my projects were in the area of alternative energy harvesting. There was something very fascinating about generating electricity from sources that surround us in our day-to-day life, that we weren’t regularly taking advantage of.

As my interest in electronics grew, I began wondering how to eliminate the use of batteries in small electronic devices, as improper battery disposal is quite toxic to the environment. I began playing around with solar cells, piezoelectric discs, and thermoelectric generators.

The “Hollow Flashlight,” the “eDrink” — can you share a bit more about your projects with our readers?

The Hollow Flashlight was inspired by my friend in the Philippines. I’m half Filipino, so I have some friends and family there, and she had written to me one day from an internet café, telling me that she had failed her grade in school because she couldn’t afford electricity and had no light to study with at night. I wondered, “How can I create a light source that wouldn’t require any batteries?” and ended up making the Hollow Flashlight, which is a flashlight that runs off the heat of the human hand.

The story behind the eDrink was that I noticed my high school friend’s coffee was always taking too long to cool down, and that their phones were always running out of energy. I decided to combine those problems and create a solution with the eDrink, a coffee mug that harvests the excess heat of your hot drink and converts it into electricity. If you drank a lot of coffee, you could eventually give your phone a boost of energy.

You have said in the past that you believe in the intersection of science and art. Can you elaborate on why that is important, especially for today’s youth?

Since I was a kid, I always had interests in both the sciences and the arts. When I received global attention for my science fair projects, the whole “art half” of me was never inquired upon. As I’ve grown older, I have realized that it is the crucial and often-overlooked combination of science and art that creates the best products and inventions around us. I believe that in the educational system — especially for younger kids — we need to start emphasizing how art and science can work together, instead of being taught as completely separate subjects.

For example, your iPhone is a great example of a piece of technology that has the interface and science behind it to work really well, but it also is aesthetically pleasing. Advocating for more young people to go into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is wonderful, but I believe it should be STEAM, which is science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.

In past interviews, you mentioned struggling in science classes and with the assumption that a university degree is necessary for getting a job. What would you say to people who have big dreams but don’t think school is necessarily their path to achieving those dreams?

I think for every individual, depending on what your job and what your interests are, you’re going to have a different path that requires a certain amount of schooling or not. I would never say that you shouldn’t get a degree if you can. I think what’s really valuable about a degree is that it shows prospective employers that you can start and actually finish projects — which is a lot more difficult than it sounds.

School teaches you discipline and hard work, and it also lets you find out what you hate versus love. I could never speak to what each individual person may require, but I suggest at least trying school and seeing if it’s for you. I’ve always believed that it is also equally important to focus on how you spend your time outside of university. All these spectacular people are graduating with the same undergrad degree, so how can you differentiate yourself from them? What can you show an employer that makes you unique? Take the time outside of class to work on your own passion projects — no matter what field — and develop your own individual opinions and thoughts on whatever area of interest you have. 

Rose Ho | Assistant Editor

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