Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old from Lone Tree, Colorado, is the winner of this year’s Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge for her sensor that can detect lead levels in water better than traditional methods. Rao, whose victory was announced late in the evening of 17 October 2017, will take home $25,000 for the idea, which she said she developed approximately five months ago in response to learning about the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
The idea just came to me when I saw my parents testing for lead in our water. Lead-contaminated water is a problem for more than 5,300 water systems in the US, according to 2016 data. If people want to test their water, they generally rely on one of two methods. They can either use lead-testing strips, which are fast but not entirely accurate; or they can send the water to the EPA for analysis, which is time-consuming and requires expensive equipment.
Rao explained. She wanted to devise a smarter, more effective solution. Over the course of the summer, Rao worked with 3M scientists to bring her proposed sensor to life. The device, which Rao named Tethys after the Greek goddess for water, uses carbon nanotubes to detect the presence of lead. Rao wants to be either a geneticist or epidemiologist (someone who studies the spread of disease) when she grows up.