Last year, sixth grader Shanya Gill and her family were shocked to hear a restaurant behind their house had burned to the ground.
“This was a very moving experience for me and my family, as it was something we hadn’t experienced before. Gill explained to Insider.
She was inspired to develop a device to detect fires more quickly than a smoke detector, and to send users a text message to warn them about a potential fire.
Now, she’s hoping to take the device to market after judges at the Thermo Fisher Junior Innovators Challenge awarded her the top prize out of 65,000 middle schoolers.
Gill’s fire detector uses thermal imaging, rather than smoke detection
Gill’s device uses two key components: a thermal camera and a Raspberry Pi, which is a small single-board computer.
“I programmed the Raspberry Pi in Python, and the thermal cameras give images to Raspberry Pi for analysis,” Gill explained. “The whole purpose of the device is to detect an unattended fire and send a text message to you.”
The computer differentiates between thermal readings moving horizontally — such as a person or an animal — and thermal readings traveling vertically, such as smoke rising.
“She has a very interesting device. I mean, it detects fires earlier than smoke detectors,” said Maya Ajmera, president & CEO of the Society for Science, an organizing partner of the competition.
Gill said that she will use the funds to bring her detector to market, and all remaining money will be donated to charity organizations helping people who have been affected by fires.
“I definitely want to put some in some charities that help people that may have gotten their homes destroyed by fires, because that’s really just my whole purpose of this project: For this invention to reach as many people as possible and to also save as many people as possible and rebuild the things that people need,” Gill said.
Competition officials say Gill stood out for her innovative project, collaborative spirit, and leadership skills
65,000 middle schoolers initially entered the competition and competed regionally. Approximately. Some 6,000 were nominated to move to the national competition, and about 2,000 typically go through with applying to compete, according to Ajmera.
After several rounds of judging, the pools shrinks to 30 top finalists who go on to attend the national science fair.
That means Gill and her fellow finalists were in the top . 04% of students who competed.
Ajmera told Insider the 30 finalists were judged on two factors: the projects themselves and a series of surprise challenges they completed in pre-assigned teams.
” “We believe that she demonstrated leadership and collaboration skills, as well as grace and critical thinking abilities, throughout and during the competition,” Ajmera said to Insider. Ajmera stated that expert practitioners in STEM fields judged students.
“She not only had a brilliant project but just carried those leadership and collaboration skills and her challenges and stood out,” Ajmera said. “We can’t wait to see what her journey looks like over the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years.”