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Indian American Gitanjali Rao is the winner of 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge

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The Challenge, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, is the United States’ premier science competition

Gitanjali Rao (Courtesy of Business Insider)

Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old Indian American girl is named the winner of the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. The device developed by Rao is a sensor that can detect lead in water faster than other current techniques.

Rather than using expensive equipment for testing, Rao’s cost-effective approach to water safety uses a mobile app that populates the water’s status almost immediately. The device named Tethys is designed to be portable and easy to use, allowing individuals to test water safety whenever needed. She hopes to solve the water contamination crisis and decrease long-term health effects from lead exposure.

A seventh-grader at STEM School and Academy, Rao competed alongside nine other finalists during a live competition at the 3M Innovation Center in St. Paul, Minn. She was awarded the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist” as well as a $25,000 prize.

Rao conceived the idea of developing the device when she saw her parents testing for lead in their water. “The idea just came to me when I saw my parents testing for lead in our water,” Rao, a seventh-grader, told Business Insider. “I went, ‘Well, this is not a reliable process and I’ve got to do something to change this.'”

Though more than 5,300 water systems in the US are lead-contaminated, people have to rely on two methods for the testing lead which are either time consuming or not accurate. While sending a water sample to the EPA for analysis is a time-consuming process, using lead-testing strips won’t give accurate result always.

During the past three months, Rao worked with Dr. Kathleen Shafer, a 3M research specialist who develops new plastics technologies that have real-world applications in dentistry and other fields, to develop the device.

Rao, who wants to be either a geneticist or epidemiologist, had earlier said she entered the Young Scientist Challenge because it combines her love of science, solving problems by new inventions, and creating films.

Along with Rao, four other among the ten finalists were Indian Americans, namely Laalitya Acharya of Ohio’s Mason, Anika Bhagavatula of Connecticut’s Wilton, Rithivik Ganesh of Texas’s Plano, and Samu Shrestha of Colorado’s Highlands Ranch.

The Challenge, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, is the United States’ premier science competition for grades five to eight and one-of-a-kind video competition that has sparked the imaginations of hundreds of thousands of students. It has also enhanced science exploration, innovation, and communication across the United States.

“Discovery Education proudly joins 3M to celebrate a 10-year commitment to fostering the next generation of passionate innovators,” said Lori McFarling, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer, Discovery Education. “Empowering students with access to innovative learning opportunities sharpen their mastery of critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and ignites their desire to improve the world with science.”