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Engineering a masterful idea: Pegasus School’s Ryan Honary a finalist in national science competition

Ryan Honary, 12, prepares a demonstration of his early wildfire warning system
Ryan Honary, 12, prepares a demonstration of his early wildfire warning system at his Newport Coast home. Honary is a top-30 finalist in the Broadcom MASTERS, a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics competition for middle school.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Ryan Honary was playing in a junior tennis tournament in Arizona in late 2018 when he saw devastating fires on the television.

“I got nervous because the hills that were being burnt looked just like the hills that were behind my house,” he said. “I wanted to know if my mom [Megan] was safe, so I called her and she said she was.”

Still, the problem continued to bug Ryan, now a 12-year-old seventh-grader at the Pegasus School, a Huntington Beach private school. The Newport Coast resident saw how the Camp Fire spread quickly in Northern California, causing at least 85 deaths and largely destroying the town of Paradise.

He asked his father, Hooman, why there wasn’t a better system in place. Then, Ryan started trying to create one, creating devices he simply called fire detectors that are powered by solar panels and feature Raspberry Pi microcomputers.

“I decided to create a network that could be deployed in high-risk locations, where it has no infrastructure and is low cost,” Ryan said. “The moment the fire detector detects a fire, it can communicate the information using no infrastructure, since it has its own built-in wireless, until it reaches my meteorological station. The meteorological station will then use its own built-in cellular to communicate that information to my app, which I created.”

Fire watchers tasked with helping prevent wildfires in Orange County will use virtual monitoring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

People have noticed Ryan’s science project. He entered the Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars) contest after doing well at the virtual Orange County Science and Engineering Fair in late March. Broadcom MASTERS is known as the most prestigious middle school Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) contest in the country.

Ryan initially found out his project was in the top 300 of about 3,500 applications submitted. Last week, he found out that he also was in the top 30.

Ryan Honary, 12, developed this COVID-19 thermal camera system at his Newport Coast home.
Ryan Honary, 12, developed this COVID-19 thermal camera system at his Newport Coast home. Honary is a top 30 finalist in the Broadcom MASTERS, a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics competition for middle school students.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Typically, each of the top 30 Broadcom MASTERS students are flown to Washington, D.C., for a week-long showcase and competition. This year it will be done virtually on Oct. 16-21 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, said Maya Ajmera, President and CEO of the Society for Science & The Public. The nonprofit organization puts on the competition, where the finalists compete for more than $100,000 in awards.

“One of the things we’re seeing with kids Ryan’s age is that they look for problems that are close to home, things that have affected them,” Ajmera said. “This is a great example of saying, ‘What can we do to react more quickly when there’s no warning system?’ He used a machine-learning driven sensor network, which gives him that sort of information.”

With Orange County giving every school the green light to reopen for the first time since March, teachers and administrators said they felt excited and scared at the same time. Parents said they experienced similar feelings.

Ryan has continued to innovate during COVID-19 times. He said he has modified his project into a fever detection program.

“I took the fire detector and replaced it with two cameras, an infrared camera and a regular camera,” he said. “The infrared camera has forehead recognition, so that it can capture the temperature of the forehead. If it detects a fever, it will capture a picture of the person. The information would be sent to the meteorological station, then to the app.”

Ryan learned coding and research techniques through a program at the Ardent Academy for Gifted Youth in Irvine, his father said.

He is actually the second Broadcom MASTERS top 30 finalist for the Pegasus School seventh-grade science teacher Julie Warren. The first was Spencer Green in 2017.

Ryan Honary, 12, shows off his American Red Cross Disaster Services Award at his Newport Coast home.
Ryan Honary, 12, shows off his American Red Cross Disaster Services Award at his Newport Coast home.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Ryan’s project has also received outside recognition. He recently earned a Disaster Services Hero award from the Orange County chapter of the American Red Cross.

“I’m just so proud of Ryan,” Warren said. “He started this when he was even younger. For him to have the vision at that young of an age, then to actually be able to be so dedicated to that vision, it just shows what a scientist he’s becoming. Science is about trying and trying again, trial and error. It’s just such an incredible vision and such a relevant topic, and I’m just so proud of his dedication to want to do something so important.”

Hooman Honary said his son also has received a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Navy Office of Naval Research. He plans to create a start-up company, named “Newport A.I.,” that Ryan will partly own.

“We’re going to leverage those funds, and hopefully he’s going to spearhead it, if he has the time, to turn this into a real product,” Hooman Honary said. “Then, we’re also leveraging those funds to file for a few patents. Ryan is very excited that this might become a real thing.”

First comes the conclusion of the Broadcom MASTERS competition. Ryan is one of just two students from Southern California to crack the top 30, along with Julian Olschwang of Los Angeles. He’s also one of the youngest students in the competition, which features several young scientists who are already 14 years old.

“I’m kind of nervous,” Ryan said, pausing for just a second. “But I’m also really excited.”

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