11-Year-Old Invents Better Lead-Detecting Device

Gitanjali Rao, 11, invented a device that could make it easier to test your water for lead. (Photo: Courtesy of Discovery Education Young Scientist Lab)

When 11-year-old Gitanjali Rao heard about lead contamination in the water in Flint, Michigan, she was appalled. When she watched her own parents try to test the water in their home in Lone Tree, Colorado, she saw that the current available options for at-home testing were slow and unreliable at best. So she decided to do something about it.

In an interview with ABC news, Gitanjali explained that she regularly browses the MIT Department of Materials Science and Engineering’s website to see "if there’s anything new." It was on that site that the seventh-grader came across an article on new technologies that could be used to detect hazardous substances, and she decided to see if she could adapt that technology to detect lead in water.

After pressing local high schools and universities for lab time and spending some time in her own science room (a room outfitted with a long white table that she uses for everything from coding to chemistry), Gitanjali came up with an idea for an inexpensive, portable device that could detect lead compounds in water. She explained her idea in this video, which she submitted to Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. (And heads up: She talks fast!)

As one of 10 finalists in the science challenge, Gitanjali was able to partner with 3M scientist Dr. Kathleen Shafer to create a portable device that can be used to quickly and inexpensively test water for lead contamination. Gitanjali named her invention Tethys, after the Greek goddess of fresh water.

Thanks to her invention, Gitanjali was recently named the grand prize winner of the Young Scientist Challenge, giving her bragging rights, the chance to further develop her invention, and $25,000 in prize money, which will come in handy to supplement her science room. Gitanjali told ABC News that she plans to keep working toward her goal "to save lives and make the world a better place."

It looks like she's off to a good start.