A 12 Year Old Invents a Life Saving Invention

By: Shelly Grinfeld | Last updated: Dec 13, 2023

Shanya Gill a seventh-grader attending Miller Middle School in San Jose, California recently changed the way we all look at fires. She participated in the Thermo Fisher Scientific Junior Innovators Challenge taking her to D.C. This remarkable 12-year-old had a vision and it shook her community to its core.

Kudos to Shanya for investing more than a year in order to make her invention the award winner that it is. Whoever said hard work pays off was without a doubt right. It’s amazing what someone can do with a little passion, hard work, and determination and it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can still make a difference.

Meet Shanya Gill

Shanya is a brilliant and extraordinary young girl with many interests. She is vibrant, hardworking, and cares about her community, her science project is only one example of the impact she is already making. Besides inventing and innovating she loves water sports like water polo and swimming. She tries to incorporate her passions into her routine and hone her skills in the hobbies she loves.

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Source: societyforscience.org

In Shanya’s words on the Society for Science website, “I thoroughly enjoy engaging in sports, as it has been a passion of mine since a young age.” In addition to her athletic hobbies you can’t mention them without her love of science, she loves crafting, coding, and teaching. She hopes to become a biomedical engineer and continue to invent to make the world a better place. Shayna says, “By combining my love for biology, desire to make a difference, and passion for innovation, biomedical engineering is the perfect fit for me.”

The Incident

Like all the best inventions it all started with a personal experience that impacted Shanya. Shanya was devastated and unsettled when one of her favorite neighborhood eateries which also happens to be behind her house was demolished due to a horrible fire. It was so scary for both her and her family to be so close to a fire and have their lives at risk. It inspired her to take action in trying to prevent the next one from happening.

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Source: Lisa Fryklund/Society for Science

After such an incident Shanya’s mother became increasingly cautious and afraid. According to Shayna, “Since then, my mother became increasingly cautious, always asking me to double-check that the kitchen stove was turned off before leaving our house.” It seemingly is a normal reaction for any caring mother post-incident, but Shanya wanted to do something more to secure their home. Something like this changes how you think about your day-to-day and how you leave the house. Leaving something on or plugged in is no minor thing especially when it has the potential to burn everything.

Under Fire

As told by Shanya the diner that burned down was a beloved staple in the neighborhood and they weren’t the only ones at a loss. Allegedly someone working on the shift that day left a fire unattended in the kitchen resulting in flames covering every inch of the once-inviting eatery. Luckily there were no casualties besides the establishment going up in smoke. Hopefully, the building was insured.

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Source: Society for Science / Youtube

Shanya was shocked and devastated to learn that within the US thousands of lives are lost as a result of fires across the US. She decided not to be a bystander and to take action in order to do something to try and change such a statistic. In the last year alone about 522,500 structure fires caused the deaths of 2,910 civilians.

Fire Fighting

Such 522,500 structure fires are the result of 77% of the deaths and 11,720 civilian injuries. This equates to $15 billion in direct property damage, a whopping 83%. “Most fires in your home start from an unattended heat source in the kitchen” per Shanya’s project video. Moreover, about 85% of wildland fires located in the US are manmade. The majority of these fires are caused by campfires and the burning of debris.

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Source: Society for Science / Youtube

You also can’t forget the equipment factors that cause malfunctions or irresponsibly discarded cigarettes. Shayna hoped that with her invention she could prevent the risks of unattended fires in the home and save not only homes and businesses but also lives.

A New Mechanism

Shanya explained through her submission video that she had taken a Raspberry Pi and attached it to a thermal camera. This is revolutionary and may just give smoke detectors a run for their money. She programmed her device to do something that no fire detector has done before. Her device can detect the presence of fire and humans within the vicinity. As she stands in her kitchen she shows us through her computer that her device can detect that there is a human, herself, in her kitchen.

Source: Society for Science / Youtube

When she turns on the fire in her kitchen she shows on her computer that the thermal heat censor also detects that there is a fire there. She emphasizes that since she is next to such a fire it is considered an “attended fire.” If you turned on the fire and accidentally forgot so you left the house then a smoke detector would only catch this when there is smoke. According to Shanya that is too late and her device aims to catch this much earlier.

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On the Go

What makes Shanya’s device so important is that it alerts the people in charge of the home of an unattended fire before it becomes a threat to you or your home. This has the potential to prevent casualties and damage to many homes as a result of fire.  Her device if in the home would prevent dire escalations that could harm the whole community if a fire spread.

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Source: Society for Science / Youtube

Shanya’s device would already outperform current smoke detectors in accuracy and prevention of fire. This is also a device that has more speed and affordability than others. We all love a good deal and this seems like the best of the lot.

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The Alert

As Shanya explains her device’s benefits, in a car outside her home, there is still a fire burning in her kitchen. This burning fire could be within seconds of threatening her home and her neighbors. She suddenly gets an alert straight to her phone informing her that there is still an unattended in her home in case she needs to be reminded to go back and turn it off. Not to worry, in this instance, it is all part of a live demonstration of her device working in real-time.

Source: Society for Science / Youtube

She goes on to say that most fires can be prevented if detected early enough and her invention does exactly that. In the decades leading up to the present day, fire detectors seem to be stuck behind in their old ways. Advanced technology is available and yet fire detection has not undergone a much-needed update. Shanya aims to do just that with her invention.

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Potential to Revolutionize an Industry

Because fire protection awareness is growing and its benefits are life-saving, the most advanced technology in the field is in high demand. In order to revolutionize such an industry and utilize the untapped potential the investment in the industry is growing. There could not be a more perfect time for Shanya’s invention.

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Shanya’s goal is to bring her technology to every home and kitchen in the U.S. to protect lives. Who knows maybe her technology will become the technology used all around the world one day. How could you not be a fan of such a smart and caring 12-year-old girl? She wants to build a safer future for everyone and what better way to start than here?

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Society for Science

Shanya submitted her invention along with her video to the Thermo Fisher Scientific Junior Innovators Challenge. It is a program that aims to inspire and motivate young and promising innovators, engineers, and scientists to find solutions to the modern day’s most pressing issues. The competition has been around for decades, since 1921 to be exact and according to their website, they wish to protect our global climate and keep people safe. This is very aligned with what Shanya strives to do.

Source: Society for Science / Facebook

The competition is greatly committed to the spreading of equal access to STEM education for young people. Shanya was excitedly chosen to be one of the finalists in the competition and showcase her idea and her hard work. She had the opportunity to give her invention a wider reach and hopefully be able to put it in practice.

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The Final Countdown

Shanya says, “With an early warning system, we could save thousands of lives every year.” Her bio was shared on the social media channels of the competition and it was a great honor for her to participate. Having the level of sportsmanship that she does she was just happy to be included and excited to make a small possible difference through her invention while learning from all the other brilliant participants.

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Source: Society for Science / Facebook

The competition had kids from all over. The young innovators spanned across 35 different states in the U.S. as well as Porto Rico. It was a great opportunity to see kids from all over create and show passion for science and helping their communities. Shanya was then selected to be one of the finalists.

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Shanya in Action

As a finalist in the competition, her participation took her from California to the U.S. capitol, Washington D.C. She got to explain her fire detection device up close to her peers and the judges of the competition. You can see her passion right off the bat and the judges were impressed as well. She had a very well thought out presentation and demonstration in place to show the mechanics of her invention.

Source: Society for Science / Facebook

Accurate, affordable, and faster than any other device out there, Shayna can be heard saying in the competition. Not only is this little star a talented innovator, but she is an excellent marketeer too. She highlighted all the important elements to make her creation stand out.

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Team Work Makes the Dream Work

It wasn’t all fun and games during this competition, Shanya alongside many of the other finalists underwent exercises and programs that challenged them and helped them explore their minds. Shanya enjoyed working together with her team and learning from everyone involved. Everyone brings something to the table and it’s important to be mindful in order to take note and learn further.

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Source: Society for Science / Facebook

It’s the teamwork that you create together that allows you to build on ideas and improve them. While working in teams the kids could help each other and balance everyone’s strengths, make their ideas and execution even stronger.

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Getting the Job Done

Shanya loved working with her teammates and being around other fellow innovators like herself. While testing the prototype of her invention she could detect sources of heat during the majority of the time, 97% to be exact. Additionally, she could detect the presence of humans near such heat sources 98% of the time.

Source: Society for Science / Facebook

All this is nothing without the third part of the cycle. In instances where the device needed to send a text message alert of a fire unattended in the home, it was successful 97% of the time. If those are the odds than we will take them because that’s without a doubt a success.

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To Mass Scale

With further improvements, Shayna Gill, says her invention has the ability to replace smoke detectors altogether. Not only is is more accurate and affordable than the latter it has a better response time. This means that it is more preventative in instances where fire presents a real threat.

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Source: Society for Science / Facebook

Gill says, “In order to deploy at a large scale, I am doing experiments where the device would be placed on the ceiling like a smoke detector.” With a little more experimentation, this has the ability to give her invention the power to draw fuel from existing electricity lines and provide a great level of motion to detect at a larger range.

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The Junior Innovators Challenge

The Junior Innovators Challenge is a competition that reaches a variety of middle schools across the nation, 65,000 to be exact. Out of all the students Shayna was selected among only 30 finalists. This is not a small feat in itself. She surpassed many students with her designs and invention that also helps others.

Source: Society for Science / Facebook

Those who garner recognition and take home more than $100,000 total. Shayna was looking forward to putting her invention to the test and everyone was surely impressed. After learning that thermal imaging has the ability to detect heat loss she got to thinking and her curiosity, wit, and motivation led her to the question, could it be used to detect fires quicker?

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A Girl with a Vision

Although the initial prototype for Shayna’s invention is brilliant, Shayna is all about improving it and making it accessible. She is now working on refining and making it cheaper for people to easily implement it in their homes. A Raspberry Pi alone, which is what powers the invention, retails at a starting point of about 35 dollars and that may not be realistic for everyone.

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Source: Society for Science / Facebook

Additionally, she is refining the code and programming of her device to improve the accuracy of fire and human presence and the alert system. Shayna hopes to bring her product to market and donate a portion of the profits to charities and organizations that help victims of fires. There is still so much to be done when dealing with the traumas and daily struggles of people who were subjected to threatening fires and dealing with these matters is just as important as preventative measures in place for fires.

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Genius Invention

According to Shayna, “This device outperforms smoke detectors in accuracy, speed, and affordability.” She hopes that her final product cost will be less than $60 and without installation costs. Although smoke detector prices are usually between 15 to 150 dollars what makes them super expensive is often the installation. The average cost to install one is 110 dollars and that’s for a hardwired one.

Jessica Yurinko/Society for Science

Many academics say that Shayna’s invention shows promise the only thing that would hold some concern is false alarms. Hopefully, that is something that can easily be dealt with so as to not alarm people without reason. False alarms can be just as dangerous and unnerving in some instances.

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Up Up and Away

It was pointed out that thermal imaging is usually for detecting hot spots like that of temperature and could cause great discrepancies when trying to detect fires. Despite Shayna’s invention of having the ability to beat out a fire alarm when detecting the presence of fire, it could overestimate and mix up hot spots with actual fires.

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Source: Jessica Yurinko/Society for Science

Shayna has the perfect response to this concern, although when she was creating and testing the device she was faced with many false positives she successfully improved accuracy in regards to fire detection after countless trials and errors during inception. Shayna got her device to a 98% accuracy rate. Considering her age at a mere 12 years old that is even more impressive than it already is and she is just getting started.

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Friends for a Lifetime

The friends that she made while participating and attending the competition are just as valuable or perhaps even more so than the innovation itself. The competition aims to encourage students to problem-solve challenges that are faced every day and promote the fields and advancements of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) from a young age.

Source: Society for Science / Facebook

These like-minded and brilliant students have the means to revolutionize the next steps in the field and there is no better time to start than the present. Running the competition for the past 25 years is the President and CEO of the Society for Science, Maya Ajmera. Maya was quite impressed with Shayna and her invention, she says, “Shanya saw a problem and she went after it and tried to solve it, and that’s what we need to encourage with all young people.”

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The Power of a Young Mind

According to research, countless young people drop out of STEM, even more so girls and minorities such as kids of color. It is competitions like this one that feed a need students have to develop and harness their scientific curiosity and interests. It is a waste not to utilize it from the gecko.

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Source: Society for Science / Facebook

Shayna’s participation in the competition has only further piqued her interest in a career in science as she gets older. She hopes that she is able to make products that continue to help and make a difference in people’s lives. “I want to stick to my passions and try to make a positive difference,” Shayna says with enthusiasm as she is interviewed at the competition.

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Creating a safe space for kids to explore their passions and creating healthy competition to help challenge their minds allows them to grow and find their strengths and interests in a positive and nurturing environment. That’s the best anyone could ask for, for their child.

Source: Society for Science / Facebook

Shanya’s love for biology, making a difference, and innovation is what helped her become a stand-out candidate in the competition which is one of the reasons she received a surprise for her brilliant invention. She was simply thrilled to participate, but little did she know she was about to do more than that.

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The Final Result

It is a competition after all, and what is a competition without winners? Winning first place, the Thermo Fisher Scientific Ascend award went to none other than, Shanya Gill!  First Place awards her 25,000 dollars in addition to such a prestigious recognition.

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Source: Society for Science / Facebook

Shanya was quoted as saying that the moment was “surreal and the suspense was really high.” She said she didn’t feel much as it was happening, probably from the adrenaline, and only now everything is hitting her. She is super thankful for the opportunity and the recognition that the competition brought her.

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A Strong Grip

This is only one of many milestones sure to be in Shanya’s future. She hopes to continue to grow her network, with the other students she has met in the competition and beyond. She hopes to be able to with the help of her peers and her connections to be able to bring her device to the market sooner than later.

Source: Society for Science / Facebook

Shanya hopes to help her peers as well and to maintain a network where they all feel as though they can count on each other for guidance and assistance in their endeavors and goals both in science and beyond. Shanya’s story is truly an inspiration for others and a lesson in hard work. When you set your mind to something it pays off.

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Nothing But Smiles

It feels good when someone so deserving and humble wins an award and that is exactly who Shanya is. She is not only brilliant and created something meaningful but she was also focused on all the right things, creating, making a difference, and networking with other students. She didn’t participate in order to win and it is that attitude that will get her even farther in life not only in her career and innovation.

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Source: Society for Science / Facebook

Following Shanya’s first-place win, Adyant Bhavsar also from San Jose, California was one of the winners winning the Lemelson Award for Invention worth 10,000 dollars for their product-based solutions. Adyant invented an eco-friendly version of a triboelectric nanogenerator that’s also low-cost. Generating electricity from mechanical energy when two objects are touching and when they separate is the genius way that this invention is powered.

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Brilliant Young Innovators

All the finalists in the competition underwent a four-day event that taught them various STEM skills and disciplines. Additionally, they have the opportunity to showcase their designs and inventions in a virtual exhibition for several weeks. It gives them the chance to spread their ideas to a wider audience and possibly build connections to further advance their inventions for the long-term.

Source: Lisa Fryklund/Society for Science

More notable students and inventions include winners, Keshvee Sekhda, age 14, from Sugar Hill, Georgia, Maya Gandhi, also 14 years old from Anaheim, California, and Elizabeth Olvera, age 13, from Goleta, California with their star inventions that surely will change how we all look at STEM and young people. Even though these students all come from different walks of life, backgrounds, and interests it’s beautiful to see them all come together in innovation and the desire to make a difference in STEM.

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Keshvee Sekhda won the Broadcom Coding with CommitmentTM Award and a $10,000 prize for integrating coding and STEM knowledge. She and her teammate created a smartphone app to detect breast, lung, and skin cancer, referring to the app as ” IdentiCan.” Maya Gandhi won the DoD STEM Talent Award and a $10,000 prize for her impressive STEM skills and her advanced leadership and technical skills. Maya explored various substances that aim to boost energy output in plant microbial fuel cells. With such knowledge, it is possible to generate electricity using living plants.

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Source: Society for Science / Facebook

Moreover, Elizabeth, another promising young innovator in the competition received the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award for Health Advancement and an additional $10,000 prize. This award recognizes a student’s hard work and performance specifically in the health-related field, students who simultaneously have an advanced grasp of various social factors that can also affect a person’s health. Elizabeth was able to hone in on an eco-friendly fabric that has the means and ingredients to be both affordable and reusable when making menstrual pads.

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Just the Beginning

Shanya knows the importance of thanking the people around her who helped her get to where is is. Her parents play a big factor in her approach to learning and her ability to put her curiosity into action. From worrying about her wellbeing after the fire to helping film her submission video her parents have always been there to support her and challenge her to not take anything at face value, to always aim to improve and create a better future.

Source: Jessica Yurinko/Society for Science

As immigrants of Indian origin Shanya and her family continue to utilize the opportunities that they have here in the U.S. and not take anything for granted. It’s the values that they have instilled in Shanya as well, to appreciate every opportunity and utilize moments such as this competition to help propel you to a brighter future.  As she said on her LinkedIn page regarding the competition, “I am amazed at the meticulous planning and flawless execution of the whole event.”

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Gratitude Where it is Due

To sum up Shanya’s experience, in her own words, “It was like a dream come true. I spent a week in Washington DC for the finals and it was an experience beyond my imagination.” From the activities to the challenges and everything in between, it will without a doubt be a core memory that she will take with her as she grows and refines her skills both in STEM and otherwise. She writes on LinkedIn, “I learned the power of teamwork and how hard problems can be solved when like-minded motivated people come together on a common mission. I made great friends with all the contestants!”

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Source: Society for Science / Facebook

It is important to open the world for young people and allow them to ask their burning questions, only then will they be able to create a more productive future for themselves and the communities we live in. Throughout her experience in the competition, they were also invited to The White House and met dignitaries at Capitol Hill as well. Getting the chance to ask them questions and challenge them, according to Shayna is what has opened a new world for her and helped her personally understand more of how the world works and her passions. This is a perfect example of why the competition does this.

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Countless outlets took note and recognized Shanya’s achievements throughout the competition, among them goodnet.org, but it doesn’t come close to the viral buzz that was created from news outlets both locally and nationwide. We all love seeing young people succeed and redefine how we look at the world, it gives us hope for the next generation. When every day is filled with positive challenges and inspiring stories like Shanya’s it also inspires us to do better and be better, to not settle.

Source: goodnet.org / Twitter (X)

These young brilliant minds are the voices, policymakers, and leaders of tomorrow, but they aren’t waiting to start. They are already doing the things they hope to do in the future because it all starts now. They remind us not to give up on our dreams and that it is never too late or too early to start creating and changing the course of the world and our lives in the process.

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The Next Chapter

Where can you find Shanya and these other brilliant students now? Probably out there already making an impact, refining their inventions and so much more, but first, high school might be the closest challenge yet. I know we all can’t wait to see what they create next.

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Source: Society for Science / Facebook

Stay tuned for next year’s competition, maybe we will even see this year’s inventions on the market sooner rather than later. What are you waiting for? The time for creating starts now.

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