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11-year-old wins ‘America’s Top Young Scientist’ award, bagging $25,000 prize

11-year-old Gitanjali Rao won this year’s Discovery Education and 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Source: @ThomasFarley

A budding young scientist has risen to glory winning this year’s Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge and bagging US$25,000 prize money for her sensor designed to detect lead in water. But Gitanjali Rao is no average scientist, she’s 11 years old.

Rao decided to tackle the lead problem after she read up on the Flint crisis and how inefficient current methods of detection were.

“I feel every individual has a right to know if their drinking water is safe,” Rao’s submission video explains. “There are over 5,000 water systems in the US alone with lead contamination issues. Timely detection and preventative action can help mitigate the problem, but today it takes a long time and requires chemical labs and expensive equipment.”

With the current system, if people want to test their water, they will either use lead-testing strips or send water to the Environmental Protection Agency for analysis. Rao wanted the process to be smarter and more effective.

Rao’s proposed solution uses nano-technology to detect lead immediately. The device uses highly sensitive carbon nanotubes to detect the chemical element. The carbon nanotubes are paired with a mobile app which displays the results and gives the water’s status.

Over the summer, Rao worked with scientists to bring her invention to life. She hopes in the future to make her device accessible to anyone living in an area where lead contamination is a problem, making people safer and healthier.

This is a pretty impressive feat for scientists of any age, but for an 11-year-old it is truly remarkable. clearly Gitanjali Rao is going places!

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