A teenage girl from Victoria is among winners at the Google Science Fair in California, for inventing a flashlight powered by the heat from a user’s hand.

“I’m in shock, I’m in shock," said Ann Makosinski, 15, a student at St. Michaels University School in Victoria, in a phone interview Tuesday.

She claimed a trophy made of Lego for the 15-16 age category, at an awards gala Monday night for the international science fair, Google announced. Her prizes are a $25,000 scholarship and a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” from either CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), LEGO or Google.

Makosinski said the award was a big surprise, given the competition she was up against.

"It's actually kind of embarrassing because I didn't even change [before the awards ceremony]. I didn’t even comb my hair or anything. I must have looked like an absolute mess on stage because I didn’t expect to go up at all.”

The flashlight contains devices called Peltier tiles that produce electricity when heated on one side and cooled on the other. Makosinski's flashlight is hollow, allowing one side of the tiles to be cooled by the surrounding air. The tiles are heated on the other side by the heat from the hand of the person holding the flashlight. That generates enough power to maintain a steady beam of light for 20 minutes.


Ann Makosinski's flashlight, displayed at the Google Science Fair, uses the temperature difference between a person's hand and the air to generate power to light the LED bulbs. It beat out projects from thousands of other students from more than 120 countries. (YouTube)

The Grand Prize winner and winner of the 17-18 age category was Eric Chen, a U.S. student who was researching a new kind of anti-flu medicine using a combination of computer modelling and biological studies. He receives a $50,000 scholarship and a 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands.

The other winners were:

  • Viney Kumar, of Australia, who captured the 13-14 age category for an Android app that warns drivers of an approaching emergency vehicle more than a minute in advance, in order to help clear a path for it.
  • Elif Bilgin, 16, of Turkey, who took home the Scientific American Science in Action Prize and the Voter’s Choice Award for inventing a way to make plastic from banana peels.

The winners were from among 15 finalists from eight countries, selected from thousands of entries.

Earlier in the day, they had presented their work at Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters to 15 judges, who included scientists from a variety of fields, science journalists, an astronaut and a former Google Science Fair winner.

Makosinski said the best part of the experience was getting to meet the other finalists in person at last.

”It’s just so inspiring to see other people who are kind of like me and kind of want to make a difference in the community not just by talking about it but by actually doing stuff.”