11-year-old Girl Inspired By Flint Water Crisis Creates Kit To Test Lead

You can wait for somebody to solve a problem or you can take on the challenge yourself. Gitanjali Rao did the later.

“I had been following the Flint, Michigan issue for about two years,” she told ABC News. “I was appalled by the number of people affected by lead contamination in water and I wanted to do something to change this.”

That determination lead to the development of a device that quickly detects lead in water. The 11-year-old was recently named America’s Top Young Scientist and took home a $25,000 prize.

She told ABC News that she found a way to help solve the problem while browsing the MIT Department of Materials Science and Engineering’s website, a site she said she checks weekly to see “if there’s anything new.”

There was an article on the site that featured new technologies used to detect hazardous substances. She suspected that the technology could also be used to detect lead. She shared her theory with her parents who are engineers, teachers and experts from local colleges and universities. She didn’t give up, and spent months trying to get high school and colleges to give her lab time to do her experiments. She needed more than just the room in her home that she has designated for her science work.

The big break came when Rao was named one of 10 finalists in the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. According to ABC News, she was able to partner with a 3M scientist to help develop Tethys, a sensor-based device designed to detect lead in water faster than other techniques on the market.

If you think this 11-year-old is going on a shopping spree with the prize money, think again. According to ABC News, she plans to invest most of her 3M prize money back into her project to make it commercially available and to put some toward college.

What wisdom does Rao offer? She told ABC News, “Advice I would give to other kids would be to never be afraid to try. I had so many failures when I was doing my tests. It was frustrating the first couple of times, but towards the end, everything started coming together. I knew all these failures, which were learning experiences, would make my experiment better.”

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