Kentucky students invented a way to safely pick up dirty needles. They won $150,000.

Students at Ashland Middle School won a $150,000 grand prize Wednesday in a national Samsung competition for inventing a device that helps people safely pick up dirty heroin needles.

The students hope their invention will help keep first responders and others safe in Boyd County, where staff at a local elementary school scan playgrounds every day for discarded needles.

Students who worked on the project said they are happy to be recognized for the invention and hope it is mass-produced and distributed across the country.

“We’re just super excited,” said Aubree Hay, an 8th grader at Ashland Middle School who worked on the project. “Getting our project out and more advertised especially, this is such a big deal for us. It’s a really good feeling.”

The Ashland students competed against nine other schools in the national championship of the Samsung Solve For Tomorrow contest in New York City. Ashland and two other schools were awarded the grand prize.

Samsung will work with each school to determine what kind of technology would be most helpful in the classroom, and then dish out $150,000 of equipment.

“We saw many different projects,” said Isaac Campbell, a student who worked on the project. “It was definitely hard for the judges.”

The project began last fall when the school’s resource officer pitched the idea to Ashland Middle School science and technology teacher Mike Polley.

Polley’s students soon began to brainstorm ideas and came up with a device that looks like a plastic box with one of the walls replaced with rows of flexible plastic teeth.

The invention allows someone to place the box over a needle and pick it up without ever having to actually touch it.

The dangers of picking up used needles is two-fold: the sharp point could puncture skin and leave the victim at risk of contracting diseases, such as Hepatitis C or HIV; and residue left on the barrel of the syringe from the powerful opioid carfentanil, which drug dealers sometime mix with heroin to create a more potent cocktail, could seep through a person’s skin and into the bloodstream.

The invention won the Samsung contest on the state level in February, landing the school $50,000 in Samsung technology. The students were then selected to head to New York this week for the national competition.

“We’re just very thankful for the opportunity Samsung provided,” Polley said. “I just think it’s awesome to see kids coming together and trying to solve real-life problems.”

Ann Woo, senior director of corporate citizenship for Samsung Electronics America, said the Ashland project stood out because it could be utilized in communities across the world that are impacted by the drug epidemic.

“We loved the creativity and ingenuity,” Woo said. “(The invention) can actually have impact in other communities across the nation.”

Will Wright is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Reach him at 859-270-9760, @​HLWright