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Ann Makosinski: “I love to tinker, that’s my thing”

Geek inventor or glamourous entrepreneur? Scientist or artist? Ann Makosinski is a multitalented 22-year-old who proves that necessity is the mother of invention.

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When Ann was a child she didn’t have many toys. Instead, she would take her glue gun and some garbage from the house and piece together inventions. They didn’t always work that well to start with, but necessity sparked a love of inventing. 

Now 22, she’s a celebrated student inventor, who by 15 had invented her ’hollow flashlight’, a reading light powered by the heat of the human hand. She was inspired by a friend in the Philippines who failed her grades because she didn’t have a light to study by.

For Ann, not having everything you want in today’s age of plenty is the secret of success. She believes that our brains are programmed to react creatively to need by making more from less. A childhood crafting toys from what was lying around the house motivated and focused her, leading to inventions like the flashlight that harvests our own excess heat energy, a natural by-product of everyday life.

I think it’s really important to bring science and art together.

Ann Makosinski

“I became very interested in harvesting energy that’s all around us but we don’t take advantage of,” Ann says. “For example using solar cells that harvest the sun’s rays or piezoelectric discs which harvest kinetic energy. I eventually ended up reading about thermoelectric generators, and became fascinated with the possibility of using them to harvest small amounts of energy.”

Inventor, entrepreneur and artist
The daughter of a Polish father and Filipino mother, Ann grew up in Victoria, Canada. Her flashlight won the Google Science Fair in in 2013, when she was just 15. Since then, Time Magazine and Forbes Magazine have both named her one of their ’30 people under 30’ who were changing the world. She has given five TEDx talks, including her ’Why I don’t use a smartphone’ talk at TEDx Teen, which has so far had almost 2.7 million views.

Her LinkedIn page carries the description ’inventor and creative’, and she notes that she loves the combination of studying the arts at university while pursuing her science career outside. “I think it’s really important to bring science and art together,” she explains. “All the most used technology around us like our iPhones, our iWatches, anything we wear, is now part of our aesthetic, so that’s the art part, and the science part is how it works.”

“If you look at inventors from the past, like Leonardo da Vinci, he was both an artist and a scientist. And I have always had a love for film and storytelling, so I pursue art at school with my English Literature degree, and I have my own business and do tech and inventing outside school.”

Normalising science for girls
So, how should other young girls be encouraged to take up science? Ann’s background was unusual. Her father is a retired lab manager with two medical patents and a degree in education who studied filmmaking at the University of New York in the 1960s/70s. Her mother is a passionate painter and sculptor, who holds a degree in teaching. By not giving her any toys – except for a glue gun and boxes of electrical components – her parents trained her to be different, and by her early teens she was enrolled in science fairs, getting interested in the field of energy harvesting.

Clearly not every young girl is pointed in the direction of science at such a young age. “I totally support the amount of effort that is going into getting girls into science. But I think we have to be careful not to make them feel singled out. We must be careful to make it feel normal for girls to do science, and that they can also bring their potential passion for the arts into it.”

When Ann was winning her first prizes for inventions, she could not have felt more normal. “After my science fair project garnered all this attention when I was only fifteen years old, a lot of people had me down as this genius whizz kid who’s going to save the world with her inventions. My friends and parents laughed because I am the opposite of a genius; I hadn’t got straight A’s for a long time and I was horrible at science at school. It’s just that I love to tinker, that’s my thing.”

About the Green Tech Festival

Ann Makosinski participated in the Green Tech Festival in Berlin in 2019. Julius Baer proudly supports FormulaE and the Green Tech Festival to demonstrate how the transition to, and uptake of, electric vehicles is possible on a global scale.