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16-Year-Old Creates Revolutionary Flashlight Powered Solely by Body Heat

16-year-old Ann Makosinski, from Victoria, Canada, has come up with a marvelous invention – a flashlight powered solely by body-heat. Her project won second prize at a local science fair, and made it all the way to the 2013 Google Science Fair, where she was declared the winner for her age group. She also updated it to a handsfree version this year – a body-heat powered headlamp, for which she won the 2014 Weston Youth Innovation Award.

Ann’s project is truly remarkable for its sheer simplicity and brilliance. I mean, it isn’t every day that you come across a light source that doesn’t use batteries, solar power, or wind energy. The device just powers on as soon as you hold it in your palm. If that isn’t genius, I don’t know what is!

The secret behind Ann’s invention is thermoelectric technology, and devices called Peltier tiles. And it’s really surprising that no one’s ever thought to use that kind of technology to power a flashlight before. Think of all the AA batteries we could avoid using!

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Ann, who is half-Filipino, said that she got the idea for her project when she was talking to a friend in the Philippines who didn’t have electricity. The friend was unable to complete her homework and was doing badly at school. “That was the inspiration for my project,” she said. “I just wanted to help my friend and my flashlight was a possible solution.”

As she pondered over the problem, Ann remembered that she had read about humans being walking 100-volt light bulbs. “I thought, why not body heat? We have so much heat radiating out of us and it’s being wasted,” she explained. She began by designing a few prototypes and several months later, her ‘hollow flashlight’ was ready.

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Ann said she named the flashlight ‘hollow’ because it has a hollow aluminum tube at its core that cools the sides of the Peltier tiles attached to the flashlight’s cylinder. The other side is warmed by heat from the hand that grips the device, or in case of the headlamp, the head that touches it.

When she showed the device to her parents, who are also electronics-lovers, they were quite surprised at first. “I didn’t believe it, I had to inspect the circuit,” her father said. “I said, ‘what did you do here, do you have a hidden battery on the other side?’”

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Kate Paine, Ann’s ninth grade Marine Biology teacher at St. Michaels University School soon came to know about the flashlight as well. Kate encouraged Ann to submit the project to the Google Science Fair last year, so she did and then forgot all about it. Since thousands of kids had applied from across the world, she didn’t think she really stood a chance.

But only a few months later, Ann was named a finalist in her age group. So she traveled to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, where, to her great surprise, she was declared the winner. “I didn’t expect to win anything,” she said, modestly. Arthur was so shocked at the announcement that he almost dropped his camera. Ann was awarded a trophy made entirely out of Legos, a trip to the Lego Group headquarters in Denmark, and a $25,000 scholarship.

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Since then, Ann has become something of a celebrity. She received a standing ovation at her high school’s morning assembly, she has given three TEDx talks, and also appeared on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. “I think it’s a lesson that children can innovate,” said Arthur. “With the right incentive and environment, they can be quite innovative.”

Ann is now in the 11th grade, and she’s actively trying to secure a patent for her flashlight. She’s also involved in tweaking the prototype for the consumer market. It currently produces roughly 24 lumens, which is pretty low when compared to commercial flashlights, but it’s only a matter of time before that rating goes up and the hollow flashlight becomes truly indispensable in many parts of the world.

With the headlamp, it was challenging to create a design that ‘wouldn’t be super heavy or clunky’. She also needed to find a good enough heat sink, since the head radiates a lot of heat. Her current prototype features heat sinks that fan out on either side of the device and an LED bulb that sits on top of a long stalk-like lollipop. It has a solar panel for additional charging and a capacitor to store power without using a battery.

“You could just flick on the switch and it would produce light – it didn’t matter if it’s warm or cold,” she explained.

While a lot or work remains to be done, Ann is quite clear about her mission: “I want to make sure my flashlight is available to those who really need it.” In the meantime, she’s showing off her invention at the Ontario Science Center. “ So many young children will also be able to see it and check it out and hopefully be inspired,” she said.

Sources: Yahoo News, CBC

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