Brought to you by Newscorp Australia

Australian teenage inventor stars in YouTube Story documentary

Stephanie Bedo, May 23, 2019 7:00PM

Print Article

Macinley Butson in 2018 when she was awarded Young Australian of the Year for her inventions, in particular the SMART Armour radiation shield. media_cameraMacinley Butson in 2018 when she was awarded Young Australian of the Year for her inventions, in particular the SMART Armour radiation shield.


Reading level: orange

An Australian teenage inventor has become an international science star after being featured on YouTube, the world’s biggest video sharing website.

Macinley Butson was only in grade 6 when she came up with her first genius idea: the spoonge, which is a cross between a syringe* and a spoon for helping kids get the correct dose of medicine.

“The spoonge device is an old one but a good one,” Macinley said.

She’s invented several other amazing things since, including a device that keeps garden snails away instead of poison and a solar power system that filters dirty water.

It is her latest invention — called SMART Armour — that is attracting the most attention around the world, including from YouTube, which has made a documentary about Macinley, her inventions and how she used YouTube to teach herself the skills she needed to design and make her latest idea.

SMART Armour is based on medieval* armour and is handmade from tiny pieces of copper knitted together. She came up with the idea after a history lesson at school and researched how to make scale maille* medieval armour on YouTube.

Bayeux Tapestry - Battle of Hastings media_cameraAn old drawing showing a scene from the Bayeaux Tapestry, which was made in the Medieval period of history. It shows the Battle of Hastings and soldiers wearing maille armour, or chain mail. Photo: iStock

SMART stands for Scale Maille Armour for Radiation* Therapy.

It’s not just beautiful: it will be a potential lifesaver, protecting women from harmful radiation while they are being treated for breast cancer.

VIDEO: Watch part of YouTube’s documentary on Macinley and her invention

Teen's latest and greatest invention

The 2018 NSW Young Australian of the Year, who is based in Wollongong, NSW, came up with the idea during a simple conversation over the family dinner table when she was in year 10.

Now she’s set up a business with her brother Ethan and is in her first year of study at university.

The pair have a patent* on SMART Armour and have Therapeutic Goods Association* approval for the invention to be used in hospitals.

N33ht201 Macinley and Ethan Butson. CSIRO Science Awards at Scienceworks. media_cameraMacinley and Ethan Butson seven years ago in 2012 at the CSIRO Science Awards.

Macinley’s dad works in radiation therapy, which is how the invention came about.

“It was a conversation over the dinner table,” she said.

“We were casually talking about this issue, the breast not being treated for cancer (was) receiving some radiation during treatment. That sparked my interest and I came up with the idea from there, which blocks up to 80 per cent of radiation.”

Macinley works on these research projects in her own time, starting from scratch and teaching herself the science behind the idea.

“It’s all a long process,” she said.

“One of the things people overlook is I usually spend a year on these projects.

“It starts from the very basic stage of research, reading journal articles and informing my own knowledge, which starts from nothing.”

Macinley's sketch of how a SMART Armour shield sits on a woman's body during cancer treatment. Picture: YouTube media_cameraMacinley’s sketch of how a SMART Armour shield sits on a woman’s body during cancer treatment to shield the breast that isn’t being treated. Picture: YouTube

Macinley found scale maille, a type of medieval armour, was the best option for her shield.

“It was pretty awesome,” she said.

“Clinically, most centres don’t use any type of shielding and that’s what I was trying to solve.

“Oncologists* have a very busy job and a lot of the focus has been on treating patients. A study came out that one in 14 women who had radiation therapy developed another primary cancer* later in life, so a lot of these concerns we are only becoming aware of now.”

Macinley at her desk making a SMART Armour shield from small pieces of copper. Picture: YouTube media_cameraA scene from the YouTube documentary shows Macinley at her desk making a SMART Armour shield from small pieces of copper. Picture: YouTube

After more than two years of work Macinley can’t wait to see it being used in lots of hospitals.

“It’s the project that has the most relevance because cancer is the second leading cause of deaths around the world,” she said.

“Everyone is looking at curing cancer but one thing I wanted to do was improve the outcomes for people going through treatment.”

In 2017 she became the first Australian to win the top medicine prize at the INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair for her SMART Armour.

“I have a research project each year, it’s one of my passions,” she said.

“It’s something I like to come up with in these projects, is an invention that addresses an issue I’ve looked at that year.

“It usually just happens by chance and I set out to see what can I do to contribute to this issue.”

SMART Armour on a dummy during a test in hospital. Picture: YouTube media_cameraSMART Armour on a dummy during a test in hospital. Picture: YouTube


  • syringe: simple pump used for delivering a single dose of medicine
  • medieval: time in history from about the year 400 to the 1400s
    also called chain mail or maille, a type of knitted, flexible protection
  • radiation: cancer treatment that exposes the cancer to rays of energy
  • patent: a licence for an invention that says it is your idea and can’t be copied
  • Therapeutic Goods Association: approves medicines and equipment for use by doctors
  • oncologists: cancer doctors
  • primary cancer: new and unrelated to any earlier cancers in that person


High hopes for Aussie invention

Aussie medical invention will save lives

Teens win award for looking after nan

Hannah builds bionic hand on holidays


  1. How old was she when she invented the spoonge?
  2. How much radiation does her invention block?
  3. What is scale maille?
  4. What is a doctor who specialises in cancer called?
  5. What award did she win in 2017?


1. Write a letter
“I set out to see what can I do to contribute to this issue.”

With a simple goal like this Macinley Butson has had a huge impact with her inventions. Some of her early inventions are listed in the article and on the video, as well as the more recent SMART Armour.

Write a letter to Macinley congratulating her on her achievements. In your letter, let her know how her contributions have made a difference to many people. Your letter should be encouraging and should include aspects about the way she works that you find inspiring.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative thinking, Personal and Social Capability, Science, Technologies — Design and Technologies

2. Extension
Without having met Macinley Butson we can assume some things about her character from the work she is doing.

Make a list of the character traits Ms Butson is likely to possess and write why you believe this to be the case.

For example: Inquisitive — as she likes to find out more on a topic, this is evident through the work she does in her own time.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and Social Capabilities

With a partner see if you can you identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.

Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What useful skill have you learned by watching YouTube? What skill do you have that you could make an instructional video about?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

Extra Reading in science