At 12-years old, Gitanjali Rao, a seventh grader from Colorado, has been awarded the title of “America’s top young scientist”. Inspired by the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Rao has designed a compact device to detect lead in drinking water, which she believes can be faster and cheaper than other current methods.
“After I learned about Flint,” said Rao, “I continued to research and follow it for the next couple years. Then, I saw my parents testing for lead in our water and that is pretty much what sparked the idea. I realized that using test strips would take quite a few tries to get accurate results and I wanted to do something to change this, not only for my parents but for the residents of Flint and places like Flint around the world.” Since lead does not affect the taste, smell of appearance of water in any way, the only way to detect it is with a test. There are currently two main ways to do so, home testing strips or lab testing. Testing strips however are not always accurate and can be costly. Rao thinks her device could become a competitively priced alternative: “The prototype cost just over $20 to make, but all of the materials were custom-manufactured. At bulk, I expect the production cost to be significantly less than that.”Rao has clear plans for her prototype which she calls “Tethys” after the Greek Titan goddess of fresh water. “I hope to make it commercially available in the next year so that it’s in everybody’s hands,” she says.
Rao has a very clear love for science and helping others. She says, “If you do not succeed the first time, that’s OK! There is never a limit to the number of tries it takes to accomplish a goal.” In the future, she hopes to become a geneticist or an epidemiologist and says, “I think I would enjoy working the field of diseases and someday hopefully find cures for some that cause lot of pain.”
3 Things We Love About Gitanjali:
- Rao loves to have fun! She enjoys working with STEM and solving problems. Building things such as the Tethys, is not just a job for her, she is dedicated to revolutionizing the STEM industry and changing peoples lives.
- Before winning the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, Rao was awarded a 3-month mentorship with Kathleen Shafer, a research specialist who develops new plastics technologies.
- Rao took the stage at the 2018 MAKERS Conference to pitch the Tethys device and provide an update on her next steps. She has partnered with Denver water and raised an additional $25,000 to help with the improvement and next steps of the Tethys.