12-year-old girl named top scientist after creating water lead testing device

Posted at 4:04 PM, Jan 09, 2018

Have you ever had a great idea and thought, I'm too young, too old, too whatever to make it happen? One 12-year-old is showing her classmates and the country that you're never too anything to make a difference.

It's time for this class of middle school computer science students at STEM School Highlands Ranch to get to work. And Gitanjali Rao has to finish the assignment like everybody else, even though she's America's Top Young Scientist.

"You go to New York for the next week and then like participate in media events and then you get back to school and then they're like do homework homework homework," Rao says. "I'm like argh!"

Rao created a device that detects lead in water, inspired by the water crisis in Flint.

"Putting myself in their shoes and feeling like I could be drinking lead in water that kind of scares me," Rao says.

She showed how it works.

"You are going to dip the disposable cartridge into the water you want to test," Rao explained. "And then after that it runs through this whole circuitry in order to measure the resistance of the carbon inner tube sensor."

From there the results go straight to an app Rao developed, telling you if your water is safe, slightly contaminated or critical. The device now is a far cry from how it looked when Rao started.

"She came to me with some wire she had just wires in her hand and she was like this is my project," says Simi Basu, Rao's teacher.

Basu helped Rao research and refine the idea.

"Being a girl student I pushed her really hard," Basu says.

She also helped her enter the America Young Scientist Competition. After failing to make the finals previously, this time, the ultimate success.

Rao hopes her device, Tethys, will be commercially available this year, and others will be inspired to create.

"Definitely go for your dreams," Rao says. "If you think of an idea, try to make it a reality." No matter your age.