19-year-old Forbes 30 Under 30 inventor and Google International Science Fair winner Ann Makosinski provides an inside look at the challenges she’s had to overcome as a young innovator within an industry that lacks funding — take note.

Mediaplanet: Would you say school and education played a pivotal role in your passion for science and invention? 

Ann Makosinski: My interest in inventing started very early and has grown outside of school. When I was a child, my parents gave me very few toys, but they purposefully provided me with a hot glue gun. I would take my hot glue gun and piece together garbage from around the house, creating “inventions.” While my inventions didn’t actually work, the idea of using resources around me to make something new — toys, in this case — was where my passion started. I began participating in the local science fair when I was 12 years old. Science in middle and high school was encouraging, but I never really felt much support when it came to being scientifically creative. Our classroom experience was limited to reading the textbook and solving homework problems. I was more excited to do my own science exploration after school on my own. 

MP: Can you tell us more about the Hollow Flashlight? 

AM: The inspiration for the Hollow Flashlight came from a visit with one of my friends in the Philippines. She wrote to me one day and told me that she had failed one of her classes in school because she didn’t have electricity or light to study with at night. I decided to find a solution for her dilemma, and present it as my science fair project that year. In the past, I had made a flashlight that ran off kinetic energy. This time, I decided to do something different and made a flashlight that ran off the heat of one’s hand. It’s a very simple project, so it surprised me when the video I posted for the Google Science Fair about the flashlight went viral.

MP: What kind of resources have allowed you to turn your ideas into actual inventions?

AM: My father has been my main mentor. He dabbled with both electronics and film (my main two interests) when he was my age, and eventually became quite proficient. If not for him, I would not have had the initial push to participate in my first science fair project. Last year, I won the 2015 Shell Canada Quest Climate Grant. Most of that was allocated to my education, and the rest was put towards a patent and legal expenses. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of grants available for teenagers regarding financial support for patents (if you know someone that could help, call me!).

MP: Describe your experience at the Google Science Fair.

AM: Attending the Google Science Fair was a life-changing experience for me. Over the past three years, it has provided amazing opportunities to meet some incredible people and students of my age. At the time, as a 15-year-old, I never thought I would be selected out of the thousands of applicants to be one of the 15 finalists — not to mention win in my age category. I still remember standing on the Google stage, after I had won, thinking, “anything is possible, anything is possible.” Many of the amazing young people that I met at the numerous science fairs I have attended have become some of my best — and most successful — friends!

MP: Why do you think it’s vital to increase funding for science fairs? 

AM: When you increase funding for science fairs, you are investing in our future. The participants are creating amazing inventions and life-changing technologies in all areas of science, and being recognized for it. That is a great impetus for them. Science is all around us. We need to encourage the younger generations, give them the opportunity to be innovative, and improve the world around them.

I believe we should work on increasing funding for Canadian science fairs and science programs. Unfortunately, the Canada Wide Science Fair — the same one I attended in 2012 and 2013 — has lost so much funding that the 2017 gold medal winners walked away with a $250 cash prize, compared to the 2012 gold medal award of $1,500. The venue for the science fair was changed to accommodate a lower budget. I hope everyone realizes the importance of science fairs in inspiring Canadian youth to innovate and solve at least some of the world’s problems.

MP: What excites you the most about science?

AM: The very real possibility that our research and exploration in science can help to stabilize the world by helping to heal people who are sick, give clean water and food to millions, solve the problem of energy supply, and provide free electricity all around the world.

MP: Why is it important for young Canadians to be inspired to innovate?

AM: Canada has a diverse range of people from all over the world. We should apply this diversity to innovative solutions in local as well as global problems in science, medicine, and aspects of engineering like energy and robotics. Great ideas create jobs for many. Jobs create happy people and grow the economy; the result is a peaceful society. 

MP: Only 19 percent of students enrolled in STEM programs in university are women. Do you find that in the sciences, specifically, there is a lack of female presence?

AM: One of the reasons there is a lack of women in STEM programs is because of the way science is taught to students in schools. I think if schools started offering more hands-on labs and activities earlier on in junior school, instead of presenting pages of word problems to answer, a lot more students would become interested.

Some schools are starting to offer labs for their students where they have access to a 3D printer, electronics, and tools. While experiential learning is becoming popular, not every single school can afford to do this, or is willing to fit it into the existing curriculum. It makes me sad that some schools are still apprehensive about even mentioning science fair to their students because they feel it will distract from their schoolwork. This is illogical, because if schools really want their students to grow, they should be encouraging learning both inside and outside of school time.

The environment that women enter in STEM courses at university can be very daunting for some, and I feel like women in STEM should speak out if they feel they are not being treated equally. However, I have also met many brilliant women scientists, and I am confident that in the coming years, the number of women entering science will rise. Because of today’s amazing outreach work and awareness campaigns, more and more women are beginning to pursue careers in entrepreneurship and the sciences.