A 12-year-old girl from Miller Middle School in San Jose has won $25,000 in a science fair for her invention of a new fire detection system that’s faster, cheaper, and more reliable than smoke detectors.
The Thermo Fischer Junior Innovator’s Challenge claims to be the nation’s premier STEM contest for middle schoolers, and Shanya Gill won over second and third-place inventions of a smartphone app that can detect certain cancers and an experimental method of generating electricity through plant cells.
In the summer of 2022, a fire destroyed a restaurant behind Shanya’s house. That incident inspired her to create a fire-detection system that involved connecting an affordable thermal camera to a compact computer.
It wasn’t that the restaurant didn’t have smoke detectors, but as Shanya explains, that requires there to be a significant amount of smoke first, which can sometimes mean a fire has already started and gotten out of control.
She programmed her system to differentiate between people–which were identified as warm objects moving horizontally–and heat sources, such as an active gas burner, which were identified as hot objects that remained stationary.
The system can send a text message when it detects a heat source but no human presence for a continuous 10-minute period. Shanya’s system accurately detected human presence 98% of the time and heat sources 97% of the time.
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Shanya determined that the best place for the detector would be on the wall above the stove but under the stove range—this allowed its sensors clear access to the most likely locations where a fire might start in a kitchen.
After her victory, the 12-year-old has said she wants to refine the device by combining it with a smartphone app that will allow users to quickly switch over to a camera after receiving a text message so they can see if the alert is correct, as well as a higher resolution sensor, incorporating smarter algorithms, and designing the product for mass production.
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The Thermo Fisher JIC, a program of the Society for Science, reaches 65,000 middle schoolers nationwide and inspires them to follow their personal STEM passions to exciting college and career paths. The 30 finalists are counted among the nation’s brightest students, with several, including Shanya, collectively accepting more than $100,000 at tonight’s award ceremony at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
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