Gitanjali Rao Winner 2

[Image above] Gitanjali Rao earned a $25,000 prize for her lead-detecting invention. Credit: Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge

Who says you have to be an adult to solve the world’s problems?

Take the problem of lead in your drinking water. You can learn about the quality of your water by either accessing a Consumer Confidence Report from the EPA or trying to test it yourself. But that involves purchasing a home testing kit, following the instructions, and then sending the sample off to a certified lab. And waiting.

Or you could just consult Gitanjali Rao.

Rao, a seventh-grader at STEM School and Academy in Lone Tree, Colo., was recently named America’s Top Young Scientist in the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. She developed a device that uses a mobile app to detect the quality of water “faster than other current techniques,” according to a news release on the Discovery Education website. The 11-year-old competed against nine finalists at the 3M Innovation Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Rao’s invention, which she named Tethys, uses carbon nanotubes to detect lead. She worked with 3M scientists over the summer to develop her device, which pairs with a mobile app on a smartphone that displays the water’s status. Rao earned a $25,000 prize for her invention.

Scientists have previously experimented with carbon nanotubes to remove heavy metals and salt from water. Researchers have also tested carbon nanotubes’ superpowers to generate electricity. And now a young scientist is already using them in her own invention. Pretty cool.

Rao explains the role of carbon nanotubes in her lead-detecting device. Credit: Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge

“There are over 5,000 water systems in the U.S. alone with lead contamination issues,” Rao explains in a video. “The tool allows easy testing at home or by agencies for quick detection and remedial action,” she adds. “It can be expanded in the future to test for other chemical contaminants in potable water.”

Rao’s lead detection device. Credit: Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge

The annual competition, sponsored by 3M and Discovery Education and now in its 10th year, offers students in grades 5–8 an opportunity to solve real-world problems through scientific exploration and experimentation. Students are paired with a mentor to help connect them with experts to guide them through the problem in order to find a solution.

Supporting local STEM programs

I remember being wowed as a judge as I watched children present their inventions at the local Invention Convention in Columbus, Ohio. It’s inspiring to see young people take an interest in science. And major props to 3M and Discovery Education for encouraging and supporting these types of competitions.

You don’t need a big corporate budget to support STEM programs. The Ceramic and Glass Industry Foundation offers an affordable way for your company to support science programs in your local area.

By donating a Materials Science Classroom Kit to a local school’s science program, you can help a teacher spark students’ interest in materials science. Many teachers across the U.S. have limited resources and cannot afford to purchase a kit. Visit this link to learn more.

Rao says she wants to be “either a geneticist or epidemiologist when she grows up,” she tells Business Insider. Watch the video to see Rao describe her lead detection solution.

Credit: The Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge; YouTube

I’m pretty sure we’ll be hearing more about Rao in a few years.

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