Meet the 11-Year-Old Inventor Named America's Top Young Scientist

Most 11-year-olds don't spend their summer in a laboratory testing their own inventions. Then again, most 11-year-olds aren't Gitanjali Rao.

Gitanjali, who lives in Lone Tree, Colorado, has officially been titled America's Top Young Scientist after winning first prize in Discovery Education and 3M's annual Young Scientist Challenge.

The challenge, which is open to 5th-8th graders, requires contestants to innovate a solution to a real-world problem. Gitanjali's winning innovation? A device that can quickly and accurately detect lead contamination in water, and sends the results directly to your cellphone via Bluetooth.

"Over 5,000 water systems in the U.S. alone can have lead and cause lead poisoning," Gitanjali said during her final challenge presentation to the Young Scientist Challenge judges.

She became interested in water contamination when she observed her parents testing for lead in their water after news of the lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Gitanjali was unimpressed with the reliability and expensive cost of current lead testing methods, explaining, "The problem is real, it is here today and there are no good solutions for everyday users."

Gitanjali submitted her entry via video application to the Young Scientist Challenge, and made it to the top 10. From there, she and the other contestants—whose innovations range from a medical scanner that detects cancer cells, to a facial recognition software that helps people with disabilities communicate—traveled from all over the country to 3M headquarters in Minnesota, where they were paired with scientist mentors and given access to the company's vast laboratory facilities.

A post shared by 3M (@3m) on Oct 17, 2017 at 11:22am PDT

Working with her mentor, Dr. Kathleen Shafer, Gitanjali took her device through several prototypes before it was ready for the finals. She plans to refine it even further before manufacturing it for use by people all over the world. The device's name? "Tethys," after the Greek goddess of water.

Sweety High caught up with Gitanjali moments after she was awarded the grand prize—which includes a check for $25,000.

"It's just been an amazing process, and even just the last 50 minutes have been mindblowing for me," Gitanjali gushed, grinning from ear to ear.

And what's she planning on doing now that the grueling competition is finally over? "Scream," she said. "And then probably go out to dinner. Maybe Chipotle."


Want to be a scientist too, but don't know where to start? Click HERE to check out StemBox, a subscription service that sends awesome experiments right to your door.