11 Year-Old Girl Wins ‘Top Young Scientist’ After Creating Amazing Water Testing Technology to Help Flint

Posted by on October 20, 2017 in Sci-Tech, Science with 0 Comments
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Video Source: Gitanjali Rao

By Katie Kindeland | Yahoo

An 11-year-old girl inspired by the Flint, Mich., water crisis has been named “America’s Top Young Scientist” after she developed a device that can quickly detect lead levels in water.


“I had been following the Flint, Michigan, issue for about two years,” Gitanjali Rao told ABC News. “I was appalled by the number of people affected by lead contamination in water and I wanted to do something to change this.”

In Flint, elevated levels of lead were found in the city’s water supply after the city disconnected from Detroit’s water line as a cost-cutting measure and began drawing water from the Flint River in April 2014.

Gitanjali, a seventh grader, also saw firsthand how complicated it can be to test water for lead by watching her parents, Bharathi Rao and Ram Rao, try to test the water in their Lone Tree, Colo., home.

PHOTO: Gitanjali Rao, 11, works on her lead testing device at home in Lone Tree, Colo., in an undated handout photo. (Courtesy Bharathi Rao)
PHOTO: Gitanjali Rao, 11, works on her lead testing device at home in Lone Tree, Colo., in an undated handout photo. (Courtesy Bharathi Rao)

She said she found a way to help solve the problem while browsing the MIT Department of Materials Science and Engineering’s website, a site she said she checks weekly to see “if there’s anything new.”

The website featured an article on new technologies used to detect hazardous substances, which Gitanjali figured she could adapt to detect lead.

Gitanjali reached out to her parents, both engineers, her teachers and experts at local colleges and universities for help.

PHOTO: Gitanjali Rao presents her discovery to a panel of scientists and school officials at the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. (Andy King/Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge)
PHOTO: Gitanjali Rao presents her discovery to a panel of scientists and school officials at the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. (Andy King/Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge)

“We had to learn as she asked questions,” said Ram Rao. “Our first question was, ‘Is this what you really want to go after? Because it’s a sizable problem.’”

He continued, “Then you go one day at a time. There was no real expectation that she would necessarily finish, but the journey itself would be the learning experience. It turned out she had a lot more determination.”

Gitanjali spent months trying to convince local high schools and colleges to give her lab time to continue her experiment.

At home, Gitanjali worked on her project in the “science room” she asked her parents to create for her when they moved from Tennessee to Colorado.

PHOTO: Gitanjali Rao, 11, works on her lead testing device at home in the family's 'science room' in Lone Tree, Colo., in an undated handout photo. (Courtesy Bharathi Rao)
PHOTO: Gitanjali Rao, 11, works on her lead testing device at home in the family’s ‘science room’ in Lone Tree, Colo., in an undated handout photo. (Courtesy Bharathi Rao)

“I have a room with green walls and black polka dots and a huge white table for all my experiments,” said Gitanjali, who also plays piano, swims, fences and dances. “Most of my code was done there. Most of the spills and failures were made there.”

When Gitanjali was named one of 10 finalists in the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge earlier this year, she was able to partner with a 3M scientist to help develop her innovation.

The result is Tethys, a sensor-based device designed to detect lead in water faster than other techniques currently on the market.

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