Gitanjali Rao may be young, but she was just named “America’s Top Young Scientist” for her simple and cost-effective device that can detect lead in water.
The 11-year-old from Lone Tree, Colorado and her device won the $25,000 title from the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge on Tuesday. Rao, who was competing against other young scientists between 11 and 14 years of age, was the youngest participant in the 2017 event.
Other young scientists between who have been awarded the title in the past have gone on to receive grants, patents, and scholarships for their genius.
Rao says that she first became inspired to build her Tethys device – which she named after the Greek god of clean water – after she watched her parents testing their tap water for lead content following the publicity of the Flint water crisis.
The seventh grader learned that there are currently only two methods of testing water for lead – and neither of them are very efficient.
The most convenient household way of testing water for lead is by using test strips, which are often inaccurate or inconsistent. The second is by sending a water sample to the EPA, which is expensive and time-consuming.
Tethys, however, is a small portable contraption that uses nanotubes to quickly test water for lead. The device can then be paired with a mobile app to display the results and readings.
Rao plans on using her prize money to further develop Tethys and make it available in households across the nation.
“Making the world a better place through science starts with a spark of curiosity, which leads to passion – and results in making an impact,” said 3M’s senior vice president Paul Keel. “3M is inspired by these finalists and their contributions to making lives better.”
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