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11-year-old girl was named America’s Top Young Scientist

11-year-old Gitanjali Rao, who was named America’s Top Young Scientist this week after besting her competitors in the annual Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, developed a device that can detect lead levels in water.

Her invention, called the Tethys, is a portable, easy-to-use sensor that tests water for lead faster than anything currently on the market. “I was appalled by the number of people affected by lead contamination in water and I wanted to do something to change this,” she told to media. Her parents are both engineers. The family lives in Lone Tree, Colorado. The girl has a “science room” he asked her parents to create.

Rao-receiving-prize
Rao receiving the prize

“I have a room with green walls and black polka dots and a huge white table for all my experiments,” is her description. Preparing for this project which became invention, the girl was browsing the MIT Department of Materials Science and Engineering’s website when she happened upon an article on the use of carbon nanotube sensors to detect hazardous substances and this was the start for her idea. She also saw her parents testing the water in their own home in Lone Tree, Colo., and was unimpressed by the options, which can be slow, unreliable or both. So she had a goal: a more efficient solution: a device that could identify lead compounds in water, and was portable and relatively inexpensive. And she created it. The device works with a Smartphone app which connect by Bluetooth. Rao dubbed the device Tethys, for the Greek goddess of fresh water.

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