11-year old student wins young scientist challenge

Global Business

Her name is Gitanjali Rao. She’s a 7th grader at STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado. Of all of the high achieving students in her Accelerated Science class, she’s managed to stand out.

CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.

“I have just been interested in science in general. No matter if it’s biology, chemistry, physics or even aerospace, ” Rao said. 

The blue box she’s holding recently propelled her into the limelight. “Introducing Tethys, the easy to use, fast, accurate, portable and inexpensive device to detect lead in water.”

Her invention, named for the Greek goddess of water, helped her beat 300 other competitors in this year’s Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. “When they called my name, I was completely shaking in my head, ” Rao said.

It was the Flint, Michigan water crisis, in which lead was found to have contaminated the city’s water supply, that drove Anjali, as she’s known, to create a sensor which uses carbon nano-tubes to detect the presence of lead. She said her method is more reliable than lead test strips.

“Basically all you have to do is dip the cartridge into the water you wish to test. Once you do that, all you have to do is pull out your phone and open up the Tethys app in order to get your results.”

A 3M scientist worked with her to make her invention competition-ready. “She is incredibly tenacious and determined. What she was proposing for this summer was phenomenal for someone who is 11 years old,” 3M Research Specialist, Kathleen Shafer said.

It’s the sort of thing her school encourages. Teachers, and a 3-D printer, helped her build and test the device. “We’re all about the real world problem solving and empowering students to take charge of those problems and solve them, ” explained Stem Middle School Principal, Leanne Weyman.

America’s new Top Young Scientist is not only good at finding solutions, she’s mastered the art of explaining them to audiences large and small.

Rao made the rounds of T.V. talk shows shortly after her victory. She pores over scientific magazines and university websites in search of new ideas. She’d like to be a geneticist or epidemiologist someday. “Most 11-year-olds wouldn’t be doing this stuff. Yeah. But here you are,” Rao said.

First things first though for this young entrepreneur: bringing her lead tester to market. Rao says she sees that happening in about a yearr.