Grade Schooler Wins Science Fair With Her Innovative Fire Detection System

Washington Post

Shanya Gill, a 12-year-old student from Miller Middle School in San Jose, recently secured a remarkable victory in the Thermo Fischer Junior Innovator’s Challenge, a prestigious STEM contest for middle schoolers. Her groundbreaking invention, a novel fire detection system, earned her a substantial $25,000 prize.

This competition, touted as the nation’s premier STEM contest for middle school students, featured Shanya’s invention triumphing over other impressive entries, including a smartphone app capable of detecting certain cancers and an experimental method of generating electricity using plant cells.

The genesis of Shanya’s innovative creation dates back to the summer of 2022 when a fire devastated a restaurant near her residence. This incident served as the catalyst for her inventive mind to devise a fire-detection system that outperformed traditional smoke detectors in terms of speed, cost-effectiveness, and reliability.

Shanya’s system involves the integration of an affordable thermal camera with a compact computer. Unlike conventional smoke detectors that rely on the presence of significant smoke, Shanya’s invention identifies potential threats by distinguishing between warm, moving objects (indicating human presence) and hot, stationary objects (signifying heat sources, such as an active gas burner). The system is designed to send a text message alert when it detects a heat source without corresponding human presence for a continuous 10-minute period. Impressively, Shanya’s invention achieved a 98% accuracy rate in detecting human presence and a 97% accuracy rate in identifying heat sources.

Recognizing the optimal placement for her detector, Shanya determined that situating it on the wall above the stove but under the stove range provided clear access to potential fire-prone areas in a kitchen.

Following her triumph, Shanya expressed her aspirations to enhance the device further. Her plans include integrating the system with a smartphone app that allows users to quickly switch to a camera after receiving an alert, incorporating a higher resolution sensor, implementing smarter algorithms, and designing the product for mass production.

The Thermo Fisher Junior Innovator’s Challenge, a program organized by the Society for Science, engages 65,000 middle schoolers across the nation, inspiring them to pursue their STEM passions and explore exciting college and career paths. The 30 finalists, including Shanya, are acknowledged as some of the brightest students in the country, collectively receiving over $100,000 in awards during the ceremony held at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. This program plays a pivotal role in nurturing the next generation of innovators and encouraging their contributions to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.


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