What were your favourite toys growing up? Perhaps an action figure or a doll? Possibly something related to physical activity, like a football, a jump rope or a tricycle? It might’ve been some kind of game, be it a board or videogame? Or maybe, just maybe, you started getting into circuit breakers and transistors while you were still learning to talk.
Meet Ann Makosinski. Born in British Columbia, Canada, in 1997, she is now in University majoring in English Literature. She was hardly a straight A’s student, and actually struggled with her science classes in High School, like Maths and Chemistry. So it may come as a surprise when we tell you she is one of the world’s youngest inventors.
Daughter to a Polish father and a Filipino mother, Ann didn’t have many toys growing up. Or at least not the ones we’re used to. Her parents believed that, with fewer toys, Ann would have to develop her creativity to entertain herself, and that would sprout and stimulate her curiosity. And it looks like they were very much onto something.
When she was two, Arthur, her dad and an inventor in his own right, gave her her first “toy”: a box full of assorted electronic components. Worst gift ever? Maybe for some. For Ann it was the beginning of a lifelong passion: “I started inventing when I was a little kid. I’d take my hot glue gun and garbage from around the house and piece together “inventions”. Of course, they never worked initially. But the idea of taking the resources around me and piecing them together to make something better kind of came naturally.”
Her first creations were her own toys, like a wooden horse she built - and on which she wouldn’t sit for too long, so it wouldn’t break. But she quickly started aiming for higher altitudes. The more toys she invented, the more knowledge she gained and the more her skills grew. Until, for a 7th grade science fair, at age 11, she created a radio that could be powered by the wasted heat from a candle. And, from then on, she never stopped.
At age 15, in one of her visits to her mother’s homeland, the Philippines, a friend told her she had failed her grade in school because she could not read at night, since her parents could not afford electricity. “For me, I was fifteen or sixteen at the time, to realise that a girl - who I thought was just like me, just in a different part of the world - didn't have something that I took for granted like light… That was really shocking to me.” And an idea immediately sprung in Ann’s mind. What if she had a flashlight that didn’t need any batteries?
And so it was. After countless failed experiments and prototypes, she came up with the first flashlight that required absolutely no batteries - aside from the person holding it, that is. That’s right: using something called peltier tiles, Ann was able to design a flashlight that would run based on the heat coming off its user’s hand.
This invention led to her being the recipient of numerous awards and scholarships, from winning the Google Science Fair and the Canada-wide Science Fair, to being featured on publications such as Time, Forbes and Entrepreneur as one of the most influential people under 30. She was even a guest on Jimmy Fallon, presenting her latest creation: the eDrink mug - a coffee mug that, while you wait for your beverage to cool off, uses the excess energy to charge your phone. Not too shabby for an English Lit major.
Despite all the acclaim she earned, Ann keeps herself quite grounded: “A lot of people were like “this science genius whiz kid is gonna save the world with her inventions!” All my friends who knew me and my parents were just laughing because I’m the opposite of a genius whiz kid. I literally hadn’t gotten straight A’s for a long time and I’m horrible at science in school. I just loved to tinker, that was my thing. A lot of people come to me like: “Oh, I could never do what you do because you’re a genius.” And I’m like no - you can be a regular person, just working on what you are interested in. And that’s all it really takes. You don’t have to be some kind of genius to make a difference.”
She is also a fierce advocate for the humanization of women in tech and science: “I think it’s really important to show - when we do showcase women doing tech and creative work - to show them as an all-rounded person who has other interests that are not just science, but all these other things. So then girls can feel like “She likes the same things I do, so maybe I can do what she does!””
Ann, who recently changed her name to Andini, due to her admiration of the illusionist Harry Houdini, isn’t shy about sharing her creative process. And she has a lot of advice for young inventors: “It’s definitely not going to work the first time you make it, you just have to keep pushing yourself. Maybe take a break if it’s really frustrating you, but always come back to it. Even if it’s just twenty minutes a day, sit down, brainstorm, come up with new designs or learn more about one particular subject that’s involved with your invention, but always work on it every single day.”
So, If you weren’t top of your class or always struggled with any particular subject, don’t fret. Just follow your passion with steadfast determination. Who knows, you just might strike that elusive vein of genius that runs through all of us - and end up making the world a better place for everyone!