Meet 11-year-old Gitanjali Rao. She isn’t like most 11-year-old’s. With a passion for science and a determination to take action, she invented a revolutionary device that detects lead contamination in drinking water.
Gitanjali was inspired by the Flint Water Crisis. “I started following the Flint water crisis two years ago when I was nine,” said the seventh grader. “I was surprised that there wasn’t a fast, reliable process for testing water for lead.”
Gitanjali decided to invent a novel technology that consists of a disposable cartridge containing chemically treated carbon nanotubes that can be dipped into a water sample. So, how does it work? An Arduino-based signal processor beams the information via Bluetooth to a cellphone and a smartphone app reads the test results in seconds. Gitanjali’s device is called Tethys and she explains that the name means “the Greek goddess for clean water.”
“It’s just as important as going to the doctor or a dentist for checkups,” she says. “The average person should be testing their water at least two times a month.”
“I’ve always been interested in science because it’s all about providing real world ways to solve problems in the world,” says Gitanjali. Existing lead detection methods involve using paper strips or sending water samples for testing. However, Gitanjali’s impressive device uses an Arduino-based signal processor. This beams the information via Bluetooth to a smartphone app which is able to process accurate findings about lead levels in water in seconds.
Tethys won her the title of America’s Top Young Scientist in the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge competition. She received a cheque for $25,000 and hopes to use it for her college fund. “I’d like to go to MIT and study epidemiology or genetics” she said.
Unsurprisingly, this is not the young scientists first invention. “I invented a tool that detects snakebite severity by identifying the type of venom in the bite,” she says. “I found that different types of venom have different heat signatures and they show up differently when you use a thermographic camera.”