Meet Gitanjali Rao, “America’s Top Young Scientist”

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We often hear the phrase “children are our future,” but what we should be saying is “children are our present, leading the way to the future!” No one represents this idea more than Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old from Lone Tree, Colorado, who earned her “America’s Top Young Scientist” title by winning the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

Photo: Discovery Education

Her device, called Tethys: The Water Lead Contamination Detector, is named after Tethys the Greek Titaness of freshwater. It uses carbon nanotubes to screen water and detect lead levels that can be reported on a mobile app. The ten challenge finalists spent three months collaborating with scientists to bring their ideas to life.

Gitanjali was inspired to begin this project after learning about the water contamination catastrophe in Flint, Michigan where in the local government’s effort to cut corners, residents were drinking polluted water. High levels of lead in shower and drinking water is extremely dangerous, with potentially fatal effects.

After watching her parents collect a water sample and send it off to a lab, Gitanjali and her family had to wait over a week for the lab to run tests and return the results. The process was costly and lengthy. The other screening option, lead-testing strips, while fast, are not always accurate. Gitanjali wanted to create a far more precise and efficient option.

This kind of work is so valuable in a society where not everyone has immediate access to clean drinking water. Potable water is necessary for survival and Tethys will help to identity clean sources. Gitanjali is part of the movement to make the world a safer, healthier place!

Photo: Discovery Education

She won $25,000 in prize money that she plans to use in part to continue refining the device to make it more market-friendly. It’s already easy to use, portable, and inexpensive so it probably won’t be long before this innovative product becomes an indispensable tool worldwide!

Gitanjali has aspirations of becoming a geneticist or epidemiologist in the future. She is a model of compassionate leadership who thinks critically, acts with a purpose, and inspires peers.

Do you want to create your own project to change the world? You can #BeLikeJane today by joining Roots & Shoots, designing your own projects like this one to help solve problems around the world! No solution is too big or too small, and we know you all have so much to offer with your creativity and compassion. Get involved today: www.rootsandshoots.org


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The Jane Goodall Institute is a global community conservation organization that advances the vision and work of Dr. Jane Goodall. By protecting chimpanzees and inspiring people to conserve the natural world we all share, we improve the lives of people, animals and the environment. Everything is connected—everyone can make a difference.

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About Author

Susan Janowsky is a Jane Goodall Institute Roots & Shoots intern and current senior at Tufts University studying Art History and Anthropology with a focus on Human-Animal Interaction. On campus she is involved in Tufts Animal Welfare, Hillel, and Ski Team. Her passion for animals and conservation has led her to where she is today. Susan has been on an archeological dig in Belize, worked with camels in New York, and has a very handsome labradoodle, Pepper.