Gemstone Team Wins 2023 ‘Do Good’ Showcase Prize to Build Wildfire Drone

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University of Maryland (UMD) Gemstone Honors Program team advised by Assistant Professor Fernando Raffan-Montoya won the 2023 ‘Do Good’ Showcase on November 6, 2023, receiving an award that will support the development of a drone prototype that could advance wildfire research. 

The undergraduate research team, named “Supa’Hot,” was one of the three teams that received a $500 award in support of the development of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that could be used to collect data of the burning pieces of airborne wood or vegetation lifted by wildfires, known as embers. The prototype could help researchers develop modeling systems to better understand how wildfires spread by characterizing ember size, count and flight path–further advancing the study of fire behavior. 

"I'm really proud of this team. Their multidisciplinary approach to a complex issue like wildfire behavior is a great example that shows that the grand challenges of our time require a wide range of expertise and teamwork in order to provide the best possible solutions, and UMD is leading the way!” said Raffan-Montoya. 

This year’s showcase judging panel included Gemstone alums Lara Fu '17, director of development and communications at DC Prep, and Christina Hnatov '19, a lecturer with UMD’s Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Additionally, Gemstone Honors Program’s Associate Director Allison Lansverk, Program Manager for Student Engagement Brianna Luca, and Do Good Institute’s Lecturer and Senior Program Manager Katlin Gray were members of the panel. 

Following their recent showcase win, Supa’Hot, formed by nine junior undergraduate students, including Department of Fire Protection Engineering major Joshua Binsol, will continue to fundraise in the next 27 days for general electronic supplies, testing site fees and other components of their developing UAV research project. 

The “Do Good” showcase is a collaboration between UMD’s Honors College and the School of Public Policy’s Do Good Institute, which brings together 14 undergraduate research teams focused on proposing a solution to an ongoing societal issue. 

If you would like to support Supa’Hot’s efforts in advancing the study of wildfires, consider making a donation to the team at this link. 

Published December 5, 2023