As a result of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a middle school scholar in Colorado has come up with a better way to determine lead levels in water, as The Cut reports.
Gitanjali Rao, a seventh-year 11-year-old grader in Lone Tree, Colorado just won the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, taking home $ 25,000 for the water quality testing device she created, called Tethys.
Rao was inspired to create the device after monitoring the Flint water crisis over the past few years. In 2014, after the city of Flint cut costs by changing water sources used for its tap water and did not treat it properly, lead levels in the city’s water skyrocketed. By 2015, researchers testing the water found that 40 percent of the city’s homes had elevated lead levels in their water, and recommended that the state publish unsafe Flint water for drinking or cooking. In December of that year, the city declared a state of emergency. Researchers have found that lead poisoning water had a “tremendous” effect on fetal death rates as well as leading to a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that killed 12 people.
Rao’s parents are engineers, and she watched them as they tried to prove the direction in their own house, experiencing just how difficult it could be. She noticed news about state-of-the-art technology for detecting hazardous materials on the MIT engineering department website (which she regularly checks just to see “is there anything new,” as ABC News reports) then work creating Tethys. The tool works with carbon nanotube sensors to detect lead levels faster than other conventional methods, sending the results to a smartphone app.
As one of 10 finalists for the Young Scientist Challenge, Rao spent the summer working with a 3M scientist to upgrade her device, then submitted the prototype to a panel of judges from 3M and schools across the world. country.
The pollution crisis in Flint is still ongoing, and Rao ‘s invention could have a major impact. In March 2017, Flint officials warned it could be as long as another two years until the city’s tap water is safe enough to drink without filtering. The state of Michigan now plans to replace 18,000 homes with water pipes by 2020. Until then, residents using water filters could use a device like Tethys to make sure the water is they drink safely. Rao plans to return most of the $ 25,000 prize money to her project in hopes of making the device commercially available.
[h/t The Cut]
All images by Andy King, courtesy of Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.