Ridgefield fifth-grader's invention qualifies for global competition

RIDGEFIELD — A Farmingville Elementary School student’s long-held love of sea turtles recently earned her a spot to compete on the global invention stage.

Lily Zezula’s creation, The Turtle Tent, was recognized at Raytheon Technologies’ national Invention Convention on June 24, which celebrated more than 400 K-12 inventors from across the country during a virtual awards ceremony.

The 11-year-old will join dozens of fellow inventors from the U.S., Mexico, Singapore and China at the program’s global ceremony on Aug. 13. The inaugural event will also be held virtually.

Zezula developed the concept for The Turtle Tent after visiting the New York Marine Rescue Center on Long Island last October. Her teacher, Elizabeth Robbins, invited her to take a behind-the-scenes tour there after learning of Zezula’s interest.

“Ever since I was 5 or 6 I’ve been reading books, reading articles, watching documentaries and doing so much research on sea turtles,” she said.

It was at the center that Zezula learned of a problem plaguing sea turtle populations. Since air temperature determines whether a hatchling will be male or female, climate change is causing a disproportionate amount of female sea turtles to be born, which could adversely affect the species.

“If a turtle’s eggs incubates below 81.86 degrees Fahrenheit, the turtle hatchlings will be male,” Zezula’s research reads, “(but) because the temperature of the sand surrounding the nest is getting to be hotter than 81 degrees due to climate change, this is causing almost all sea turtle offspring to hatch as female ... outnumbering the males 116 to 1.”

Zezula’s solution was to create a mechanism to keep turtle nests cool.

The Turtle Tent is made out of a reflective material called Mylar that prevents sunlight from hitting a nest and cools the sand around it. This, when implemented, would result in more male sea turtles to be hatched, Zezula explained.

“When there’s more females (but) not enough males, they can’t make more sea turtles,” she added. “On top of everything they’re already going through because of humans, their population’s gonna shrink even more.”

In addition to engineering and designing the invention from scratch, Zezula also met with field experts via Zoom to share her plans and research surrounding The Turtle Tent.

“I wish the world had more of her passion, spirit and drive to create a better place for all living things,” said Sadie Logozio, an education liaison from the New York Marine Rescue Center. “She is going to make a big, positive difference for our planet.”

To participate in the Invention Convention, students submit a video presentation of their invention, a prototype, a logbook documenting their research and a display board highlighting key points of the invention process.

For Zezula, who’s a three-time participant of the program, working under pandemic conditions this past year made for a different experience.

“I (worked) hard to figure out ways that I (could) keep up my knowledge (of) sea turtles and inventing,” she said. “I’ve been doing all these out-school programs and (used) Facebook to (watch) Key West Aquarium (presentations) to boost my knowledge about marine life.”

Zezula’s mother, Tiffany, said this sort of virtual learning “opened the experience up for Lily that she didn’t ever receive.” It has even allowed Zezula to connect with marine life organizations who could potentially patent and implement her invention in the future, but those chats are preliminary, Tiffany said.

Zezula offered a word of advice to her fellow inventors: “When there’s a problem in the world and you know a solution to it, you can solve that problem no matter how young or old you are. If you just work really hard to make your invention come true, it will happen.”

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com