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Apeksha Bagchi

IWB Blogger

Finding A Low-Cost Way To Detect Lead In Water, 9 Y.O. Gitanjali Rao’s Innovation Has Saved Lives

  • IWB Post
  •  December 5, 2018

In 2014, Michigan was hit with The Flint water crisis. The drinking water in the city of Flint, Michigan, became contaminated with lead, affecting over 100,000 residents. Following this, everyone was instructed to boil water before drinking it. It was a 9-year-old who finally found the solution to this crisis.

When Gitanjali Rao, 9-year-old at the time, saw her parents testing their drinking water for lead, she realized that their method was expensive and there were chances that the result could be inaccurate.

“The Flint crisis hit me hard, and I wondered how I could help the residents. I have always been inclined towards science and experimentation, so I took up the challenge. When I expressed my concern and wish to experiment on an easy, low-cost way to detect lead in water, my school teachers too started helping me out,” she said.

She developed Tethys—a low-cost, accurate method that can deduce the amount of lead in water by using specially tuned carbon nanotubes.

“Tethys also has a Bluetooth pairing device that can be connected to your phone. Once the water is tested, the results will be sent to a mobile phone,” she said.

When she sent this idea to the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, she became a finalist there. “I entered the Young Scientist Challenge because it combines my love of science, solving problems by new inventions, and creating films,” she said. “For three months during the summer, I worked alongside my mentor, Dr Kathleen Shafer who helped me understand how my device could be developed, where its strengths are etc. I also started reading more about technology development at school which helped me design and develop Tethys.”

She won the 3M Young Scientist Challenge and received a cash prize of $25,000. She was one of the speakers at the TEDxGateway 2018 where she talked about the applicability of the device.

“While I was studying the problem, I realised that [lead] detection is a primary issue. People do not know if their drinking water is safe. So I focused on creating a solution that is portable, fast, accurate and cheap so each one of us can test our own water,” she said. And now, she plans to take her project further.

“Now I plan on advancing the technology so we can expand the use of Tethys. I am currently working extra hard at school so I can take the innovation forward. The possibilities are endless. Various regions experience different types of water contamination, and I wany Tethys to help people as much as possible,” she explained. “I plan to continue evolving my device. Mainly I would like to test for accuracy such as doing false-positive testing and manufacturing chemically doped carbon nanocubes as my main sensor material. I also plan to make it a more compact design and possibly even add the option to crowdsource device data.”

“I plan to expand it to other contaminations such as Arsenic, Cadmium etc. which are major contaminations of water in India,” she added. “My only message is to be aware of the advancements in technology and be curious about the issues and impacts that [they] have on people.”


H/T: The Better India



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