This 11-Year-Old Girl Invented a Device That Detects Lead in Water

Image via Discovery Education
Image via Discovery Education

As society continues to deteriorate at an unprecedented rate, it’s nice to remember that there are people out there still willing to save us. Take, for example, 11-year-old Gitanjali Rao, who developed a device that can detect lead levels in water after becoming alarmed by the situation in Flint, Michigan.


Rao was named America’s Top Young Scientist this week after besting her competitors in the annual Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, nabbing herself the first place $25,000 prize and also the distinction of being maybe our last hope for saving this dumb planet.

“I had been following the Flint, Michigan, issue for about two years,” Rao told ABC News. “I was appalled by the number of people affected by lead contamination in water and I wanted to do something to change this.”

Her invention, called the Tethys, is a portable, easy-to-use sensor that tests water for lead faster than anything currently on the market. Rao saw firsthand how complicated testing water for lead can be by watching her parents, who are both engineers, try it in their Lone Tree, Colorado home. She told the station that she was browsing the MIT Department of Materials Science and Engineering’s website when she happened upon an article on the use of carbon nanotube sensors to detect hazardous substances, which she figured she could be adapted to detect lead.

And she could! Developing the Tethys took months of trial and error, but luckily, she’s pretty well set up for research. From ABC:

At home, Gitanjali worked on her project in the “science room” she asked her parents to create for her when they moved from Tennessee to Colorado.

“I have a room with green walls and black polka dots and a huge white table for all my experiments,” said Gitanjali, who also plays piano, swims, fences and dances. “Most of my code was done there. Most of the spills and failures were made there.”

Flint residents discovered elevated levels of lead contaminating the water supply after the city was disconnected from Detroit’s water line as a very badly-conceived cost-cutting measure in 2014. The crisis is believed to have led to the death of at least 12.


She has a science room. And reads the MIT Department of Materials Science and Engineering for funsies. She named her experiment after the Greek goddess (Titan) of fresh water.

She’s a rockstar and I love everything about this. Fantastic work, Rao!