This amazing story hits the sweet spot for me as both a now-grown kid science nerd and transplanted Michigander — I just had to share! 11-year-old Gitanjali Rao has been named the grand prize winner ($25,000!) of the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, for Tethys, a device she created that can quickly pick up on lead levels in water. She was inspired to do so by the contamination that has been plaguing the city of Flint, MI, and by an article on new technologies that she spotted on MIT’s website.
Tethys was devised as a low-cost, personal lead-testing device that uses carbon nanotube sensors. Connected to a user’s smartphone, it then shows the results of tested water within a proprietary app – faster than any other lead sensor on the market today.
The process this whiz-kid and the other finalists went through sounds fascinating. From 3M’s press release:
“During the past three months, Gitanjali and the other finalists had the exclusive opportunity to work directly with a 3M scientist to develop their innovations as part of a unique summer mentorship program. Gitanjali was paired with Dr. Kathleen Shafer, a 3M research specialist who develops new plastics technologies that have real-world applications in dentistry and other fields.
Each of the students collaborated with some of 3M’s leading scientists, who provided guidance as they worked through the scientific method to advance their ideas from a theoretical concept into a physical prototype. Together, the 3M mentors and finalists shared their passion for science, reviewed the scientific process and worked virtually through pre-assigned objectives[.]”
Rao hopes that her invention will help people like those in Flint take charge of their own lead exposure in a simple way. With bureaucracy at the centre of the Flint water crisis, grassroots action may prove the best way around it.