Child prodigy Gitanjali Rao has invented a quick, low-cost test to detect lead contamination in water. The 12-year-old’s portable invention – named Tethys, after the Greek goddess for fresh water – allows a sensor linked to a mobile app to give an accurate, almost immediate analysis.
Clean water matters
“Water is a human right and we have the basic right to know our water quality. In 2010, the United Nations recognised the right to clean water. It is an essential need for survival and we all have a collective responsibility to conserve and protect clean drinking water for all generations. The concept of Tethys developed over two-three weeks when my parents tested our water in our new home. The core idea emerged from the general thinking that, while lead-free water is ideal, it is too ambitious to try to eliminate lead completely from water sources. To me, it seemed more practical to detect contamination, so that people can take preventative measures.”
Importance of Tethys
“I believe first and foremost, a tool like Tethys is an opportunity for the community and industry to get inspired to invest and build solutions that help in detection, and possibly elimination, of lead compounds in water. If I can build a tool with my limited means, the community as a whole can solve this problem in a bigger way. Secondly, I want Tethys to share the idea that science and engineering can be used for greater good. With proper funding and investment support, I cannot only make it more accurate but also extremely affordable for everyone.”
Children’s role in improving the world
“I think there is a lot children and students can do to solve the problems of today and improve our world, because they are not bound by the imagination and constraints of adults. I think if we can develop a mechanism and education structure that makes students consistently aware of the problems the world is facing, as well as the advances in science and technology, students can get extremely innovative.”
“I want to continue on the path of finding ways to solve the biggest problems of today and tomorrow, aided by technology. While I’m working on developing and testing Tethys, I am already working on other projects with broad implications on human health and communities’ well being.”
She has been named America’s Top Young Scientist of 2017 at the young age of 12 by the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. She has been a Davidson Young Scholar since 2012. She published her first book at the age of nine, called, Baby Brother Wonders. The self-illustrated book won second prize in the PBS national writing contest. She also won first place in the International Aviation Art Contest for last three years in Tamil Nadu and has been an active volunteer for an organisation called Children’s Kindness Network that spreads an anti-bullying message.
(This 10th edition of the TEDxGateway sees over 20+ speakers from different walks of life sharing unique ideas that make them an inspiration the world over. Over 5500 attendees are slated to attend this feast of ideas and inspiration on December 2 at DOME @ NSCI Mumbai.)