Winning Ideas: The Bodyheat Powered Flashlight!

body_heat_flashlightEvery year, IT giant Google holds an online competition open to students aged 13-18 from around the globe to come up with new and challenging scientific ideas. And this year, one the winners just happens to hail from my hometown of Victoria, British Columbia. Her name is Ann Makosinki, a 15 year old high school student who invented a way to power a flashlight using only the warmth of your hand.

She claimed a trophy made of Lego for the 15-16 age category at an awards gala that was held on Monday, Sept. 23rd. Her prizes were a $25,000 scholarship and a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” from either CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), LEGO or Google. Quite the impressive accomplishment for a 11th grader, but then again, Makosinki has been a scientist at heart ever since she was a little kid.

google-science-fair-winners-2013For starters, when other children were playing with toy cars and dolls, she busied herself with transistors and microcircuits. What’s more, by Grade 6, she began submitting projects to science fairs and began showing an interest in alternative energy. Still, Makosinki was surprised to be getting an award, given her competition. As she said:

I’m in shock, I’m in shock. 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.

As for the invention itself, it is easy to see why she won. Basically, it is an LED flashlight that relies on the thermoelectric effect to generate electricity when held. This is done through a series of devices that are known as Peltier tiles, which produce electricity when heated on one side and cooled on the other. The tiles are fixed to the outside of the flashlight while the tube itself is hollow.

peltier-figure-9When held one side of the Peltier tiles are heated by the warmth of the person’s hand, air flowing through the hollow tube helps keep the other side cool. This combination of body heat and air cooling allows enough power to be generated to maintain a steady beam of light for 20 minutes. And all without the need for batteries and the resulting ewaste when they go dead.

Makosinki came up with the idea while researching different forms of alternative energy a few years ago. Already, she had experimented with Peltier tiles for her Grade 7 science fair project. While researching her project, she thought of them again as a way to potentially capture the thermal energy produced by the human body. After doing some calculations, she found that the amount of energy produced by a person’s hand was theoretically sufficient to power an LED light.

ann_makosinksiHowever, putting it into practice proved somewhat more difficult. After buying some Peltier tiles on eBay, she tested them and found that while they generated more than enough power, the voltage produced was only a fraction of what she needed. She rectified this problem after doing some further research, where she discovered that the addition of transformers could be used to boost the voltage.

She spent months doing research on the internet, experimenting with different circuits and even building her own transformers, which still didn’t provide enough voltage. In the end, she came across an article on the web about energy harvesting that suggested an affordable circuit that would provide the voltage she needed when used with a recommended transformer. Finally, the circuit worked.

ann_makosinksi1Makosinski admitted there were points in the experiment when she thought it would never work. But as she said:

You just kind of have to keep going. This took quite awhile ’cause I had to do it during the school year as well and I had homework, plays, whatever that I was also doing.

After making it to the Google Science Fair, she and her colleagues spent the day presenting at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. Here, the 15 judges – which included scientists from a variety of fields, science journalists, an astronaut, and a former Google Science Fair winner – witnessed their creations and tried to determine which held the most promise.

The other winners included Viney Kumar, an Australia student 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. And then there was Elif Bilgin of Turkey, a 16-year old 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.

Ann-Makosinski-Google-Science-Fair-2The Grand Prize for the 17-18 age category went to Eric Chen, a 17 year old student from San Diego who is researching a new kind of anti-flu medicine using a combination of computer modelling and biological studies. He received the top prize of a $50,000 scholarship and a 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands.

Alas, Makosinki felt the best part of the competition 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.

What’s next for the young inventor? Personally, I hope Makosinki and her fellow prize winners will be forming their own research group and looking for new and exciting ways to come up with renewable energy, recycling, vaccinations, and electronics. What do you think Makonsinky, Kumar, Bilgin, Chen? That’s what Andraka and his fellow finalists did after winning ISEF 2012, and they seem to be doing pretty good. So… hintedy, hint hint!

And be sure to enjoy this video of Ann Makosinki showing off her invention, courtesy of Technexo:


Sources:
cbc.ca, (2), gizmag.com, technexo.com, huffingtonpost.ca

News From Space: Manned Europa Mission!

europa-landerWith so much attention focused on Mars in recent years, the other planets of the Solar System have a hard time getting noticed. But lately, Europa has found itself the subject of some interest. In addition to NASA proposing to send a lander there in the near future, a private space organization is thinking of mounting a manned mission to the Jovian moon in search of knowledge and extra-terrestrial life.

This organization is known as Objective Europa, a group made up of  volunteer scientists, conceptual artists, and social-media experts. At the moment, they exist only on the internet. But with time and financial backing, they hope to form a volunteer corps of settlers that would make a one-way trip to Europa and settle the planet while they researched it.

europa-lander-2Inspired by the recent missions to Mars, Objective Europa also believes a mission to this moon would be worthwhile since it is a far better candidate for extra-terrestrial life. Mars, though it is thought to have once hosted life, is a barren and dry world in its present state. Though many are holding out for the discovery of organic particles in the near future, the likelihood of finding any complex organisms larger than a microbe remains extremely low.

Not surprisingly, their group has attracted some big-name celebrities. This includes Kristian von Bengtson, a Danish architect and co-founder of Copenhagen Suborbitals, a nonprofit focused on launching humans into space. Then there’s Michele Faragalli, a rover mobility specialist for a NASA private contractor. Scientist and diver Pierre-Yves Cousteau, son of legendary explorer Jacques Cousteau, is also on the team as an ambassador for the group.

europa_reportCurrently, the group is in Phase 1 of their plan, which is geared towards the gathering of ideas. Towards this end, they have opened up a variety of research topics for discussion on their website. These include investigating the feasibility of a manned mission versus a robotic mission, launch vehicle studies, and cost analysis.Future phases would involve raising funds, and prototyping and testing technology.

What’s more, while they have not yet stated outright how they plan to fund the mission, it seems likely at this point that crowdfunding and sponsorship will come into play. As the goal statement reads on their site:

“Our purpose is to establish the foundation for and carry out a crewed mission to Jovian ice moon Europa through international crowd-research and participation.”

mars-one-brian-versteegIf this is beginning to sound a little bit like Mars One – a similar space organization looking to send volunteers to Mars – then chances are you’ve been paying attention! In terms of their purpose, objectives, and the fact that the trips they are planning would be a one-way, the two organizations are very similar. But even more interesting is what these and other space organizations like them represent.

In an age when private space travel and exploration are beginning in earnest, crowdfunded, volunteer groups are emerging with the common goal of making things happen ahead of anyone else’s schedule. Whereas space was once the exclusive province of government-sanctioned and funded agencies, now the public is stepping in to assume a measure of control.

And thanks to new media and communications, the money, talent, and energy needed are all available. It’s just a matter of bringing them all together!

Source: news.cnet.com

World’s Most Advanced Microscope – Now In My Hometown!

Uvic_microLess than one month ago, the University of Victoria – located just 20 km from where I live – made history when its Scanning Transmission Electron Holography Microscope (STEHM) went online and began taking pictures. The microscope, which is located in the vault beneath the University, conducted its first operation by zapping a fleck of gold and producing the world’s most highly magnified image.

The nondescript shot of gold atoms proved what many were already hoping for – that his STEHM is indeed the most powerful in the world, even during its “tuning” phase. Built by Hitachi High Technologies Canada, the STEHM is a one-of-a-kind machine and is the highest-resolution microscope ever built, designed to allow researchers to see things at a magnification up to 20 million times larger than the human eye can see.

Uvic_micro2Apparently, the image of the gold atoms resolved at 34 picometres, thus breaking the record for highest resolution shot ever made by an electron microscope. Previously, this record was held by the This beats out the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory in California which took an image at a resolution of 49 picometres. A picometre, it should be noted, is a trillionth of a meter, and a gold atom is about 332 picometres in diameter.

Rodney Herring, a professor of mechanical engineering and director of UVic’s Advanced Microscopy Facility, had this to say about the image in an interview with Saanich News:

For me it was a relief. I’d been telling everybody this could potentially have the best resolution and be the most powerful microscope in the world. But it wasn’t proven yet. Now we’ve got information down to 34 picometres and we aren’t done yet. We are still tuning the lab.

Uvic_micro3With the tuning and testing phase complete, Herring and his associates launched the microscope this month. The university had hoped to open the lab to outsider researchers this past winter, but the microscopes assembly and calibrations have been so maddeningly complicated that any such plans have been stalled and it only recently became operational. However, as Herring noted, tons of researchers are already lined up and looking to use it.

Literally everyone- from engineers, physicists, and chemists, to biologists and medical researchers – are looking to use the microscope to advance the sciences of medical and environmental diagnostics, communications, computers, alternative energy and manufacturing. However, the potential scientific breakthroughs for such a machine are yet to be fully contemplated, and present many exciting possibilities.Uvic_micro1All told, this machine will be able to probe and create 3D images of items like brain neurons and their synapses and muscle tissue, or probe microchip circuitry assembled at nearly the atomic level. Herring said the machine could create “pico technology,” where devices would be made one atom at a time.

This research would prove to be a boon for many areas of science, but especially for nanotechnology. Chemistry professor Alex Brolo oversees nanotechnology development related to items like medical sensors and solar cells at UVic, and said the STEHM will be critical in creating more precise devices, and without having to use powerful electron microscopes elsewhere in Canada.

solar_beadsAnd considering that more and more technology is being scaled at the nano level, any advancements made in this field would be both lucrative and incredibly significant. As it stands, the STEHM is the only microscope of its kind because of its complexity, and because of this, Hitachi has indicated that it does not plan to manufacture another like it anytime soon.

All of this puts the Advanced Microscopy Facility, and the University of Victoria in general, in a pretty comfortable position. For what could be years to come, they will have the most advanced microscope in the world at their disposal and be able to take part in some serious scientific advances. What’s more, they will surely be suffocated by petitions from research labs and scientists looking to get access to it.

Sometimes, it pays to have the most powerful microscope on the block!

Sources: vicnews.com, communications.uvic.ca