America's "Top Young Scientist" Gitanjali Rao Is All Kinds Of Awesome


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

Gitanjali Rao is America's Top Young Scientist of 2017. Scott Kinney/Discovery Education/3M via Twitter

There’s a good argument to be made that the best scientists are kids. They have more optimism and curiosity than most of us, and while we’re all distracted by petty squabbles, they remind us that there are better things to be focusing on.

Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old schoolgirl from America, is a perfect example of this. By inventing a cheap device that rapidly tests water for lead contamination, she’s been granted the accolade of “America’s Top Young Scientist”.


Every year, the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge asks kids up and down the country to explain in a short video a new scientific idea or invention – one that solves an everyday problem. Ten finalists are chosen, and the caliber is nothing less than spectacular. This year, a robot that helps reduce water wastage and a biodegradable material made from fruit that can clean up oil spills were just two of entries that made it to the last round of judging.

Indian American seventh-grader Rao – hailing from Lone Tree, Colorado – fought off the competition with her device, and has netted $25,000 as a result. She has explained to journalists that she hopes to become a geneticist or an epidemiologist in the future.


As you might expect, she was inspired to build the contraption after witnessing a grim story unfold in Flint, Michigan, where cost-cutting measures led to the use of a polluted river as the city’s primary water supply. As a result, incredibly high levels of lead made their way into people’s drinking water.

Ultimately, this ongoing crisis required attention from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), an organization that generally deals with the aftermath of catastrophic natural disasters.


Her device is small and portable; it’s designed to be used by people who find themselves in such dire situations. If you want to know if your shower water or drinking water is lead-free, her device – named Tethys after the Greek Titaness of freshwater – can tell you.

Rao told Business Insider that she was inspired to create the device after watching her parents test for lead in their own water supply. Samples have to be sent off to a laboratory for comprehensive analysis to be carried out, which is both time-consuming and costly.

Tethys, which was built with the help of 3M scientists over the summer, uses specially tuned carbon nanotubes that react to the presence of lead. Pairing it with a cell phone app, people can quickly determine whether or not their water has been contaminated.


Right now, you’ve got a President and an administration that’s openly hostile to scientists and science. You’ve also got kids like Rao. It’s not difficult to see who the future belongs to.


[H/T: BBC News]


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