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Shanya Gill – Won the Grand Prize and $25,000 at the National Middle School Science Fair

Meet Shanya. She’s an inventor who created a better fire detection system. Unlike smoke detectors, her device uses a thermal camera to detect fire hazards much earlier and has the real potential to save lives. Shanya started her project when she was in the 6th grade and, after several rounds of competition, advanced all the way to the national middle school science fair where she won the top prize and $25,000. The fair is also known as the Junior Innovators Challenge and is sponsored by ThermoFisher and run by the Society for Science.

Check out Johan’s Major AccomplishmentsAwards Interview Questions

Hometown: San Jose, CA
School: Joaquin Miller Middle School
Grad Year: 2029 / 7th Grade
GPA: 4.0 UW

Ascend Award (Grand Prize Winner)
at the National Middle School Science Fair

(#1 out of 60,000+ projects)

1st Place – Electrical Engineering
California Science & Engineering Fair
Junior Division

Social Media: LinkedIn

Major Accomplishments

Ascend Award (Grand Prize), Thermo Fisher Junior Innovator’s Challenge – Shanya was inspired to do her project when a neighborhood restaurant burned down. She problem solved and invented a better fire detection system. There are literally billions of smoke detectors in houses and businesses all over the world and she meaningfully improved upon them. She is currently in the process of commercializing her invention.

Furniture Assembling – Shanya jokes that, besides winning the national science fair, her biggest achievement is being able to assemble a desk that her family bought from IKEA. It stretched her engineering skills to the max.

National Awards

  • Ascend Award (top prize out of 60,000 entrants) – 2023 Thermo Fisher Junior Innovators Challenge (National Middle School Science Fair)

State / Regional Awards

  • 1st place Electrical Engineering – 2023 CSEF – Junior Division
    (California School Science & Engineering Fair)

School / City / County Awards

  • 2nd place – 2023 Synopsys Science and Technology Championship
    (part of the Santa Clara Valley Science & Engineering Fair Association)
  • Winner for Los Gatos CA – Daughters of the American Revolution Essay Contest

Clubs and Extracurricular Activities

  • Science Olympiad


Shanya loves to engineer – tear things apart and put them back together – and spend time with family and friends.

Interview Questions with Shanya

Q – You won $25,000 at the national science fair.  How will you spend that money?

A – The money has to be used only for educational purposes, so I am going to save it for college. However, the money from the CSEF and the Synopsys Science Fair will be used to improve my device and help put it on the market. As for cool things I want to buy, I have had my eyes on a nice necklace for my mom.

Q – There were 30 amazing kids who were finalists at the national science fair. You guys had your projects judged and you were also broken into smaller teams which participated in scientific challenges run by the Smithsonian Institution and the Kid’s Museum where you were judged as well. At any point up to them announcing that you won the grand prize, did you feel like you had a decent chance of winning?

A – I was so happy that I won because I worked so hard but I was really stressed too because the judges never gave me any sign of whether they liked my project or not. For the challenges, I think the silver team was killer. Everyone worked together so well and that probably helped us.

Q – If you win one of the top prizes at the Thermo Fisher Junior Innovators Challenge, you’re not allowed to compete in it again. But, are you still going to compete in the local and state science fairs this year?  If so, will you continue improving upon your invention?  Or will you do something completely different?

A – I probably won’t compete this year (during the 7th grade) because I am so busy with improving and putting my device on the market, but I might try again in the 8th grade.

Q – If you had a large research budget (say $50K) and access to a lab, would you research/build something different instead?

A – I really want to research brain damage. It affects so many people, and more information on it could help so many people live healthier lives.

Q – How has winning the ThermoFisher Junior Innovators Challenge changed your life?  What sort of opportunities have you received that you wouldn’t have otherwise had?

A – Of course! There were lots of newspapers and websites that interviewed me but mainly, the TFJIC gave me the confidence to strive to do big things. Also, through the competition I realized that many people were doing middle school science fairs to prepare for ISEF (the International Science and Engineering Fair) in high school, which, if they won, would look amazing on their college resume. I used to always be stressed about resumes but that’s not what science should be about. I realized that being stressed about a resume is only going to weigh you down so I dropped the extra-curricular activities that I only did for my resume and instead focused on the things that make me happy.

Q – Besides science and inventing, what else are you passionate about?

A – I love spending time with my family and time alone. I love listening to music. You can see me and the type of music I like growing and evolving in my playlists.

Q – Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our readers?

A – I think pineapple on pizza is a disgrace to human kind. And mustard should be banned.

(Wiser things have never been said. I am totally with you on those two, Shanya 🙂