3M and Discovery Education Oct. 18 announced that an 11-year-old Indian American girl, Gitanjali Rao, has been named the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge winner.

Rao, of Lone Tree, Colo., was chosen from a group of 10 finalists, which included five Indian American kids (see India-West article here) in capturing the $25,000 top prize and title of America’s Top Young Scientist at the 10th annual event.

The tween is working to develop Tethys, a sensor-based device 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, according to a 3M and Discovery Education joint news release.

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, the news release said.

According to an article in Business Insider, Rao wants to be either a geneticist or epidemiologist when she grows up. Lead contamination was interesting to her, she said, because it combines both disciplines.

"If you take a shower in contaminated water, you do get rashes and that can easily be studied by an epidemiologist," she told the newspaper. "And if somebody drinks lead in their water, their children might have small, minor defects."

"I studied a little bit of both of these topics since I was really interested in these fields," she told the paper, "and then I came up with this device to help save lives."

Rao, a seventh-grader at STEM School and Academy, competed alongside the nine other finalists during a live competition at the 3M Innovation Center in St. Paul, Minn.

During the past three months, Rao and the other finalists had the exclusive opportunity to work directly with a 3M scientist to develop their innovations as part of a unique summer mentorship program, the release said

“3M’s commitment to the next generation of science leaders is energized each year by the creativity and ingenuity of these young scientists,” Paul Keel, senior vice president of business development and marketing-sales at 3M, said in a statement. “Making the world a better place through science starts with a spark of curiosity, which leads to passion – and results in making an impact. 3M is inspired by these finalists and their contributions to making lives better.”

The winner was paired with Dr. Kathleen Shafer, a 3M research specialist who develops new plastics technologies that have real-world applications in dentistry and other fields, it added.

During the final competition, the finalists presented their inventions to an esteemed panel of 3M scientists, school superintendents and administrators from across the country.

In addition to presenting their prototypes, the finalists paired up to compete in two additional challenges through which they combined multiple 3M technologies to solve a real-world problems.

The remaining nine finalists received $1,000 and a variety of prizes from Discovery Education and 3M.

The second, third and fourth runners-up, which included Plano, Texas-based eighth grader Rithvik Ganesh, also received a trip to a taping of a show on Discovery’s family of networks.

The fifth through 10th place finishers each received a $1,000 prize and a $500 excitations gift card. Among those finishers included Laalitya Acharya of Mason, Ohio; Anika Bhagavatula of Wilton, Conn.; and Samu Shrestha of Highlands Ranch, Colo.

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