America's Top Young Scientist Gitanjali Rao. Photo courtesy of Discovery Communications, LLC.
Eleven-year-old Gitanjali Rao of Lone Tree, Colorado, has been named America's Top Young Scientist for her prototype of Tethys, an affordable and fast means of testing for lead in water.
Rao is the winner of the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, an annual competition recognizing scientific thinking and curiosity in students grades 5–8 who dream up a solution to an everyday problem that ultimately could reshape and improve the way we live our lives.The title and a $25,000 prize were awarded on October 17.
Rather than relying on expensive or unreliable equipment, Rao's Tethys is a three-part, sensor-based device: a disposable cartridge containing carbon nanotubes, an Arduino-based processor that connects via Bluetooth to a smart phone or mobile device, and an app that displays the water's status. The entire process is nearly instantaneous and can detect lead in water faster than other current techniques. Tethys is designed to be portable and easy to use, allowing individuals to test water safety whenever needed.
Rao, who was inspired by the Flint, Michigan, water crisis and who wants to be either an epidemiologist or a geneticist when she gets older, hopes Tethys can help solve water contamination and decrease long-term health effects from lead exposure. She plans to use some of her winnings to make Tethys commercially viable.
Sponsored by Discovery Education and 3M, the contest encourages students to explore scientific concepts and creatively communicate their findings. Students submitted a 1–2-minute video outlining a real-world problem and describing a new innovation or solution that could impact or solve the problem. Ten finalists were selected to participate in a summer-long mentor program, where they worked with a 3M scientist to develop a prototype using at least one relevant 3M tool or technology. The finals included prototype presentations from each of the students, as well as two hands-on challenges.
The other finalists developed solutions to a diverse set of problems, including water waste in lawn care, oil spills, Alzheimer's disease, and the diagnosis of cancer.
Next year's Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge opens on December 15.
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