The Canadian inventor shares insights on the nexus of science and art and on challenging conventional thinking
Inventor Ann Makosinski, 22, on the nexus of science and art and challenging conventions
SStudent inventor. Public speaker. Winner of the Google Science Fair in 2013 and one of the Forbes 30 under 30 in 2017. At 22, Ann Makosinski is inspiring youth around the world. Now creating a line of children’s toys based on alternative energy, the B.c.-born Makosinski spoke with Canadian Geographic about the importance of introducing kids to green innovation and her passion for science and art.
On why she started inventing things
I grew up in Victoria. My parents are a very odd couple, but I’m grateful for what they did. My first toy was a box of transistors and other electronic parts. From there, I wasn’t given a lot of other choices, so I would take a hot glue gun and garbage from around the house and piece together inventions that never worked. But the habit of taking the things around me and putting them together to make them better came very naturally because I had to entertain myself. Sometimes we would go to the University of Victoria’s trash areas, where they would throw out electronics, and I would bring things home to take apart. When I was in Grade 6, my parents suggested I enter the local science fair. Between then and Grade 12, I entered 10 science fairs. Except for
that first fair, all my projects were related to harvesting alternative (solar and thermal) energy.
On the invention that won the 2013 Google Science Fair
When I was 15, a friend in the Philippines said she wasn’t doing well in school because she couldn’t afford electricity. She had no lights to study with at night. I was surprised that a girl who was just like me but somewhere else in the world, didn’t have something as simple as light, so I based my science project that year on a flashlight powered by the heat of a human hand. I went to the Google fair with that, and I won. By Grade 12, I had created the “edrink,” a mug that converts excess heat from hot beverages into electricity to charge a cellphone.
On her decision to study literature in university
Much to everyone’s surprise, I studied English literature when I went to the University of British Columbia. I had become very confused in Grade 12 because everybody expected me to go into engineering. I wondered if I really wanted to, then decided to do something completely different, which was studying writing and storytelling and film, because those have also been passions of mine since I was a kid. And last summer, I decided again to do something out of my comfort zone — I signed up for a six-week acting course in New York City.
On the intersection of science and art
I was raised with a balance of science and the arts. For example, even though I was building my own toys, I was also watching silent films and doing poetry readings. I believe in the intersection of science and art for creating products. Our iphones have technology that was designed [for functionality] by scientists and engineers, but to be really effective, it also has to be aesthetically pleasing. When I’m designing or inventing anything, I want it to be beautiful, too.
On inventing alternative energy toys for kids
I’m creating these toys to educate and entertain whoever picks them up. The ones I initially designed are for really young kids, four to six years old. Obviously, there’s a big movement for more women to work in science, but we can’t just tell kids they should do science when they’re in high school. It needs to start when they’re really young, and it needs to be introduced in a fun way. One of my toys, for example, is a flashlight kit, so they can make their own flashlight that runs off the heat from their hands. But it’s designed to look like an animal that they can put together piece by piece — a nonforceful way of introducing kids to electronics. So many kids use technology such as ipads and smartphones right now, but none of them know what’s inside the devices or how they work. I just want to introduce them to little parts that are very basic in all electronics in a fun, playful way.