FeaturedFire prevention and detection

12-year-old girl invents life-saving fire detector

From science project to breakthrough device that detects fire, alerts nearby people

Imagine being able to prevent a fire from spreading and destroying your home, your belongings, and your loved ones. Now, imagine being able to receive a text message on your phone that alerts you of that unattended fire in your house, even when you are away. And what if you learned that the person who invented that device is only 12 years old? That’s right, 12 years old.

Meet the young inventor

Meet Shanya Gill from San Jose, California, who was so affected by a fire in her neighborhood that she designed a fire detection system that is more effective, faster and cheaper than traditional smoke detectors.

The inspiration behind her invention

Shanya’s interest in fire prevention was sparked by a tragic incident that happened in the summer of 2022 when the restaurant behind her house burned down.

“The inspiration for my project came from the summer of last year when the restaurant behind my house got burnt down to ashes because of a kitchen fire,” Shanya said.

“Ever since that, my mother was ever so cautious about house fires, and I would often have to go back into the house and check if the kitchen burners were running just as we were leaving. So, I wanted to build this device because not only to, you know, alleviate that stress on my mother but also because the world needed a better fire detector.”

How the device works

Shanya’s fire detection system uses an affordable thermal camera that is connected to a tiny computer to detect warm objects and heat sources, such as unattended fires, in real time. It alerts people with a text message on their phone, letting them know there is an unattended fire in the building.

Shanya configured the system to trigger a text notification if it detected a heat source without any human presence for a continuous 10-minute period. Plus, it can also warn people outside the house that they left their gas burner, fireplace or candle burning and unattended.


Shanya competed in the nation’s top STEM challenge

Shanya entered her invention in the Thermo Fisher Scientific Junior Innovators Challenge, the nation’s premier STEM competition for sixth, seventh and eighth-graders. The competition challenges students to use their creativity and scientific skills to solve real-world problems and make a positive impact on society.

“We have 30 young students come to Washington, D.C., to participate in finals week of the Thermo Fisher JIC, where they showcase their research projects and also participate in hands-on team challenges,” said Raeva Ramadorai, the director for the Thermo Scientific Junior Innovators Challenge.

How Shanya’s invention earned her the competition’s highest honor

Shanya won the $25,000 Ascend Award for her project designing the fire detection system, as well as the leadership, collaboration and critical thinking skills she demonstrated through the course of her research project and Finals Week challenges.

The Ascend Award is the highest honor in the competition. She accepted the award at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

“When I heard my name being announced for the top prize, … I was really happy because I felt like all my hard work was paid off.”

Shanya plans to use the money to further develop her invention and make it available to the public: “I plan on bringing my device to the market and try to make it as widespread as possible.” She hopes that her device will help prevent fires and save lives around the world.

Her story is an inspiring example of how young people can use their passion, curiosity and creativity to make a difference in the world. She also has some advice for other kids who might have an invention of their own: “Not be afraid of failure because I feel like in science, it’s just all about doing the experiments and testing out your project, and if it works2, it’s obviously a success.”

Kurt’s key takeaways

Isn’t it incredible how 12-year-old Shanya came up with a solution that could save millions of lives and properties from fire disasters? I think she is a true inspiration for all of us, especially for young people who have a passion for science and innovation. She shows us that age is not a limit when it comes to making a positive difference in the world.

She also reminds us that sometimes the best ideas come from personal experiences and observations. So, if you have an invention of your own, don’t be afraid to pursue it and share it with others. You never know, you might be the next winner of the Thermo Fisher JIC or even the Nobel Prize.

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