Seventh-grader Gitanjali Rao is America's `Top Young Scientist'


The device that Gitanjali invented is small and portable; it's created to be used by people who want to know if the water they use is lead-free. Deepika Kurup, who scooped the award in 2012 as a junior high student for her water-purification system, was on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2015, and is now at Harvard.

And she set about devising a more efficient solution: a device that could identify lead compounds in water and was portable and relatively low-priced. She was selected from 10 finalists who had spent three months collaborating with scientists to develop their ideas.

Gitanjali, a student at STEM School and Academy in Highlands Ranch, Colo., was inspired to make the device after studying major water crises in places like Flint, Mich., for two years. Around 5,300 water systems in the United States are reportedly contaminated by lead.

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An 11-year-old Colorado girl, inspired to find an easy, quick test for lead in water by the Flint water crisis, has been named the victor of the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

Her solution was so ingenious that this week, Rao was named "America's Top Young Scientist" in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge - a distinction that comes with a check for $25,000.

At present, testing for lead is expensive and samples need to be sent away for analysis to generate reliable results. When she read an article on new technologies that could be used to detect hazardous substances, Rao chose to adapt it to detect lead.

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She reached out to teachers and engineers for help and worked on her invention at home.

"It's not hyperbole to say she really blew us out of the water", Dr. Brian Barnhart, an IL school superintendent and one of the seven 3M judges, told ABC News. "The other nine kids, they were also such incredible kids, so for her to stand out the way she did with a peer group like this is like an exclamation point on top of it".

Rao wants to improve upon the device so that it could eventually be used by people. She hopes to be a geneticist or an epidemiologist down the line, to try and find cures for diseases "that cause lot of pain".

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Other inventions by children that made to the last round included a robot that helps reduce water wastage and a biodegradable material made from fruit that can clean up oil spills among others.