Young scientist sparked by flint

Water Safety: 3M, Discovery Ed Name America’s Top Young Scientist

Nov. 7, 2017
Sparked by Flint, Gitanjali Rao wins the Premier Middle School Science Competition for inventing an inexpensive app that tests water for lead.

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Young Scientist Challenge, 3M and Discovery Education named 11-year-old Gitanjali Rao from Lone Tree, Colo., the winner of the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Rao 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. 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 mid-October 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.

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. She 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.

“3M’s commitment to the next generation of science leaders is energized each year by the creativity and ingenuity of these young scientists,” said Paul Keel, senior vice president, business development and marketing-sales, 3M. “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.”

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 10 finalists paired up to compete in two additional challenges through which they combined multiple 3M technologies to solve real-world problems.

“Empowering students with access to innovative learning opportunities sharpens their mastery of critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and ignites their desire to improve the world with science,” said Lori McFarling, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer, Discovery Education.

For teachers, students and parents seeking a place to explore the world of scientific innovations and opportunities, Discovery Education and 3M developed the Young Scientist Lab, an interactive portal filled with engaging activities and standards-aligned teaching tools, anchored by the award-winning annual Young Scientist Challenge.

The remaining nine finalists received $1,000 and a variety of prizes from Discovery Education and 3M. The second, third and fourth runners-up also received a trip to a taping of a show on Discovery’s family of networks:

Rithvik Ganesh, an eighth-grader at C.M. Rice Middle School from Plano, Texas, received second place. He built upon existing research to conduct tests and identify one lead molecule from Apigenin, a compound found in fruits and vegetables, that could potentially be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

Looking forward, Ganesh hopes to take his findings through in vitro and in vivo testing and improve thousands of lives affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

Kathryn Lampo, a ninth-grader at Legacy High School in Broomfield, Colo., received third place. She created Lawn Bot, a water management robot designed to help individuals reduce the amount of fresh water wasted during home lawn care. Lampo’s innovation aims to be a more cost-effective and aesthetic water management system that measures the moisture content in soil. Made from starch-based plastic and powered by solar energy, Lawn Bot is also environmentally friendly.

Lampo hopes her innovation will help reduce the amount of fresh water wasted.

Devin Willis, a ninth-grader from Florida Atlantic University High School in Boca Raton, Fla., received fourth place. He created SLIDEMAP, a device that integrates a motorized stage used in 3-D printers, microscope imaging and machine-learning algorithms to distinguish a tumor as cancerous or benign, increasing accuracy and speed of diagnoses. Willis was inspired to improve the state of treatment after his grandfather passed away from cancer, and tapped into his passion for robotics to develop a solution.

He hopes his innovation will improve current standards of global healthcare by enabling faster, more accurate and affordable diagnoses, especially in developing countries where access to medical professionals is scarce.

The fifth through tenth place winners each received a $1,000 prize and a $500 excitations gift card:

Laalitya Acharya, a ninth-grader at William Mason High School in Mason, Ohio, invented ELIE — or "Environmentally Low Impact Energy" device — that generates energy from multiple sources to increase alternative energy use in the United States and across the world. Her prototype uses a low-flow low-head, portable water turbine, piezos and solar panels to generate electricity in multiple environments.

Anika Bhagavatula, a ninth-grader at Wilton High School in Wilton, Conn., invented EcoBoom, a natural solution to clean up oil spills using pomegranate husks and orange peels. Her research on major oil spills in the United States led her to develop a protoype that can absorb oil four-to-five times its weight.

Major oil spill incidents, which can cause approximately 1.3 million gallons of petroleum to spill into U.S. waters each year, inspired Bhagavatula to explore cost-effective, biodegradable options that can remedy this national and global issue.

Austin Crouchley, an eighth-grader at Garden City Middle School in Garden City, N.Y., in Garden City School District, created an affordable way to provide electricity and clean water using solar energy. His device features a pulley mechanism, allowing its solar panel to constantly face the sun and produce 18 percent more electricity than a fixed panel.

Contaminated water is a major health risk in developing countries, and Crouchley hopes his innovation can increase clean water supply used for drinking, farm irrigation and livestock, alleviating energy poverty around the globe.

Simone Jacobs, an eighth-grader at Washington Middle School in Seattle, Wash., invented Sill Sentry, a device to help prevent children from falling out of windows. When a potentially dangerous situation is detected on the windowsill, a net is deployed to swoop up and stop the child from falling out of the window.

Jacobs believes her innovation is a superior alternative to current window safety technology and hopes that it will be able to save many lives and trips to the emergency room.

Samu Shrestha, a ninth-grader from Highlands Ranch High School in Highlands Ranch, Colo., developed a mobile app that provides individuals with disabilities control of computer or mobile devices by using head movements, facial expressions and hand gestures. He was inspired to help a classmate with disabilities manipulate mobile devices like the rest of his classmates.

Shrestha’s innovation could unlock interaction with the digital world for individuals with disabilities and bridge the interaction gap for internet users worldwide.

Allie Weber, a seventh-grader from Edison Middle School in Sioux Falls, S.D., created a breathing device that doubles as a suction dart toy to allow child respiratory patients to have fun while doctors collect essential medical measurements during their treatments and hospital stays.

Since its inception, the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in student prizes, paired students with world-renowned scientists to give them real-world insights and delivered much-needed science resources to millions of students, teachers and families across the country. It targets students in the years when research indicates their interest in science begins to wane and encourages them to explore scientific concepts and creatively communicate their findings.

Winners have gone on to be featured in Forbes magazine’s annual “30 Under 30” list, speak in front of members of Congress and attendees at the United Nations, meet the President of the United States, and demonstrate innovations on national television programs such as “ABC World News Tonight,” “Fox & Friends” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

The annual premier competition recognizes scientific thinking and curiosity in students in grades 5-8 who dream up a solution to an everyday problem that ultimately could reshape and improve the way we live our lives.