Student designs RFID system to enhance school safety; named top 30 finalist in STEM competition

Newport High School student is named among top young scientists in the country.

Newport High School’s Gabriella Lui has been selected to be one of the top 30 finalists in the Broadcom MASTERS—the nation’s premier middle school STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) competition.

Lui was accepted into the competition because of a school project she completed last year at Quest Academy in Chicago.

Her project is simple but innovative. She created a radio frequency identification (RFID) system that works to track students’ locations in the case of a school emergency such as a natural disaster or a school shooting. The system would allow school officials and first responders to quickly find and treat students in such circumstances.

“Every second matters in emergencies,” Lui said.

Before beginning her project, she said she was never very interested in STEM, but she thought it was something important to learn. Now, she says she sees it as a way to help others.

“In terms of my project, I really wanted it to impact something—help a cause in some way. I found out about RFID and learned that it was super useful,” she said. “I wanted to take on the cause of school danger, like emergencies, school fire and shootings, especially given recent events.”

Developing her project wasn’t easy. Through months of testing and researching, she was able to use RFID to give each student their own “tag” that could be digitally read by a “reader.” Students’ locations would be read every few seconds using radio frequency.

Lui’s project competed at the regional level and at the Illinois state fair. She placed in the top 300. It wasn’t until she had moved to Washington and began her freshman year at Newport High School that she learned she is among 30 finalists for the eighth annual Broadcom MASTERS middle school competition.

Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars), a program founded and produced by the Society for Science & the Public, seeks to inspire young scientists, engineers and innovators who will solve “the grand challenges of the future.”

Lui and 29 other finalists will travel to Washington, D.C., from Oct. 19-23 where they will participate in a rigorous competition that leverages project-based learning to test and demonstrate their mastery of 21st century skills of critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration in each of the STEM areas.

Lui said she was shocked to learn she had placed in the top 30 students.

“I was just happy when I got into the top 300. I never thought I’d get into the top 30,” she said. “I’m so excited to meet other kids and share my project with other people.”

Lui and the other finalists also will meet with government officials and showcase their projects for the public during a free event at the National Geographic Society. Winners will be named during an awards ceremony on Oct. 23 at the Carnegie Institution for Science.

She said she would like to win, but is just content to have been able to create something from the “ground up.”

“This whole experience has been so rewarding… I didn’t even know how to use Microsoft Excel before this project,” she said. “I hope to just keep going and go further with this.”