The Kid Should See This

How is this young scientist taking on Flint’s water crisis?

When Gitanjali Rao first heard about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, she wanted to help in any way she could. At only 12 years old, she became the proud inventor of “Tethys,” a portable device that detects lead in water. Named “America’s Top Young Scientist,” Gitanjali hopes to inspire other kids to get moving and make a difference in their own communities.

This Great Big Story video about Gitanjali Rao, The now-15-Year-Old Scientist Taking On Flint’s Water Crisis, makes it look like it was easy for her to invent Tethys, her lead-detecting device named after the Greek Titan goddess of clean water.

The process, however, required a lot of work and dedication, including reading, research, building off of other technologies, collaboration with her STEM-focused classmates, and guidance from a mentor and her parents.

It also required a lot of trial and error. In the video above, she explains:

“My advice to other kids who want to save the world is: Do not be afraid to try. I failed, like, four or five times. But I got back into the lab and tried again, and then it was like the ‘a-ha!’ moment when everything kind of started coming together. And, you know, the device is born.

gitanjali rao with her classmatesShe’s now teaming up “scientists in the water industry to create a working prototype that could eventually be on the market.” More from Colorado Public Radio in 2019:

The 3D-printed box is about the size of a deck of cards and contains a battery, Bluetooth and carbon nanotubes. Rao got the idea after reading about how the technology can detect hazardous gas in the air. Her immediate reaction was “why not use carbon nanotube sensors to detect lead in water?”

Here’s the simple idea behind how it works: Carbon atoms link together in a beehive shape and connect to create a tube. The lead sticks to the carbon ions, which creates resistance. Tethys measures that resistance, and sends the data to a smartphone app to give the status of lead in water.


testing water for lead

“It’s important to take other people’s problems and make something to help them with it, mainly because we’re all one big community and it’s our duty to help out other people.”

Her 2017 contest project presentation video explains the invention in two minutes:


Learn more about Rao’s work, as well as what it takes to keep water clean, in this excellent episode from our friends at Brains On!, a smart science podcast for kids:

Then watch more from Gitanjali Rao: Finding solutions to real problems. Plus:
• Sixteen year old Elif Bilgin turned banana peels into a bioplastic
Fourth graders create a solar powered classroom
• Seed Launching Backpack, a 3D-printed, pollinator-friendly invention

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