Gitanjali Rao -this year’s America’s Top Young Scientist

WC Desk:

11-year-old Gitanjali Rao has been named this year’s America’s Top Young Scientist for her invention of a lead detection device inspired by the Flint water crisis! The seventh grader from Lone Tree, Colorado wowed the judges in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge for her device which allows for nearly instantaneous testing for lead in water, with the results sent directly to your smartphone. Gitanjali hopes that her lead contamination detector, which she named Tethys after the Greek goddess of fresh water, can be made widely available — and expanded to test for contaminants in the future. “Clean water always tastes good,” she says. “The tool allows easy testing at home or by agencies for quick detection and remedial actions… I hope this helps in a small way to detect and prevent long-term health effects of lead contamination for many of us.”

Gitanjali was first inspired to investigate the problem of lead contamination after learning about the widespread problem with contaminated water in Flint. “I had been following the Flint, Michigan, issue for about two years,” she explains. “I was appalled by the number of people affected by lead contamination in water.” After watching her parents test the water quality in their own home with a home kit, she was unimpressed by the options which she thought were slow, unreliable, or both. “I went, ‘Well, this is not a reliable process and I’ve got to do something to change this,” she says. After reading about new technologies that can be used to detect hazardous substances on the MIT Material Science and Engineering website (a site she likes to peruse periodically to see “if there’s anything new”), she decided to see if they could be adapted for lead testing.

She convinced a local high school and university to give her lab time, and came up with an ingenious solution: her device uses a disposable cartridge containing chemically treated carbon nanotubes that tests for lead using electrical resistance; the cartridge connects to an Arduino processor with Bluetooth that then sends the results to a smartphone app. The use of the carbon nanotubes means that results can be generated in minutes, rather than the days or weeks often require with convention testing methods. “It’s not hyperbole to say she really blew us out of the water,” says Brian Barnhart, one of the competition’s judges. “For her to stand out the way she did with a peer group like this is like an exclamation point on top of it.” Along with the title of America’s Top Young Scientist, Gitanjali also received a $25,000 prize. She’s planning on saving some of her prize money for college, while investing the rest in making Tethys commercially viable. Ultimately, Gitanjali, who aspires to become a geneticist or epidemiologist one day, wants to make such testing affordable and widely available. As she asserts, “I feel, every individual has a right to know if their drinking water is safe.”

Kudos to Gitanjali for her impressive ingenuity and passion for using science to change the world! To watch her entry video, visit

Reproduced from A Mighty Girl


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