11-year-old Gitanjali Rao earned the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist” when she won the this year’s prestigious Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. The Colorado resident was recognized for inventing a sensor that can detect lead in water more efficiently than traditional methods. Rao was first moved to create such a tool after learning about the Flint water crisis. “I feel every individual has the right to know if their drinking water is safe,” said Rao in her National Finalist video presentation. Rao hopes her invention, called Tethys after the Greek goddess of water, will protect communities in the United States, where more than 5,300 water systems have lead contamination, and around the world.
There are two primary methods for people in the United States to test water for lead: lead-testing strips, which yield a quick, though sometimes inaccurate, result, or sending a water sample to the EPA, which takes much more time to complete. Rao decided to create a more effective method after watching her parents testing for lead at their home. “I went, ‘Well, this is not a reliable process and I’ve got to do something to change this,'” said Rao.
Working in collaboration with 3M scientists, Rao created a device that uses carbon nanotubes to detect lead and sends this information via Bluetooth to a mobile app for instant information. Rao plans to refine her device and make it available to communities that most need it. At the moment, Rao is interested in becoming either a a geneticist or epidemiologist when she is older. “I studied a little bit of both of these topics since I was really interested in these fields,” she said, “and then I came up with this device to help save lives.”
Via Business Insider
Lead image Andy King, Discovery Education; others via The Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge