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11-year-old named top young scientist for developing device that detects lead levels in water

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Posted at 3:45 PM, Oct 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-19 15:46:08-04

An 11-year-old from Colorado has been named the country’s top young scientist after developing a system that can quickly detect the presence of lead in drinking water.

Gitanjali Rao, a sixth grader from Lone Tree, Colorado, was named winner of the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge and brought home a $25,000 top prize.

As part of her project, Gitanjali developed a new test that connected to mobile phones via Bluetooth to measure the amount of lead in a sample of water. She named the system “Tethys” after the Greek goddess of water.

Currently, lead levels are tested with strips — which work quickly but are often unreliable — or sent to the EPA for testing — which is expensive and takes time. Gitanjali says her system offers a more accurate, less expensive option.

Tethys requires a test cartridge, which contains carbon nanotubes that are able detect lead. The cartridges connect to a device that reads the levels, which then sends the results to a user’s smartphone via a Bluetooth connection.

According to Business Insider, Gitanjali hopes to further refine Tethys with the hope of one day of distributing it to communities affected by high lead levels, like Flint, Michigan.

Other Young Scientist Challenge finalists included a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, efficiency solutions for renewable energy, and an app that allows for interaction between desktop and mobile devices.

Alex Hider is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @alexhider.