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Home / India News / Trying to generate awareness about water pollution and need for testing: Geetanjali Rao

Trying to generate awareness about water pollution and need for testing: Geetanjali Rao

Geetanjali Rao won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge’s America’s Top Young Scientist award of 2017 for her discovery.

india Updated: Nov 02, 2019 05:44 IST
Rhythma Kaul
Rhythma Kaul
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Geetanjali Rao created a portable testing device that checks for lead contamination in water.
Geetanjali Rao created a portable testing device that checks for lead contamination in water.(Star plus Team Photo)
         

When seventh grader Gitanjali Rao, then 11, heard about the problem of lead contamination of water in the state of Michiganin 2017, she decided to do something about it. The result was Tethys, a portable device that detects lead in drinking water. Rao won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge’s America’s Top Young Scientist award of 2017 for her discovery.

Q: How does your innovation work?

I have created a portable testing device that checks for lead contamination in water. I named Tethys, after the Greek goddess of fresh water. The gadget is capable of indicating presence of lead in as quickly as 15 seconds. It has a testing probe on the side that needs to be dipped in water for a few seconds, after which it should be connected to a cellphone through Bluetooth to get the readings.

The device is not very expensive as it does not cost more than $20 (approximately Rs1,400), including the research cost. It costs $5 (Rs350) for a test.

Q: How did you think of coming up with this testing gadget?

I learnt about the lead contamination problem in the state of Michigan. It disturbed me to know that kids my age were drinking poison every day; and it was water that they were drinking. Soon, I learnt that it was an even bigger issue in countries like India and Brazil and people do not even know about it to take any action. It was a worldwide problem and access to clean drinking water is our right. I knew then that I was going to look for a solution to this problem and hence detection became my primary focus.

Q: What happens next?

I am participating in events to generate awareness about the issue, the need for testing and the device in general. Apart from that I am also looking at partnering with an incubator (start-up) company to help me with the mass production of this device that will further bring down the cost, so it is affordable for all especially utilities and households.

Q: What do you plan to major in?

I definitely want to get into engineering, most likely biomedical engineering, genetics. I could also opt for biochemistry and continue in the field of research. As you can see, I change my mind within seconds.

Q: What inspired Tethys?

The device is similar to gas sensors based on carbon nanotubes that are used to detect levels of hazardous gases in the air. My device is also sensors based on nanotechnology. It was the inspiration and started out as a broad idea that had to be narrowed down. A lot of hard work and research went to developing the device about two years ago.

Q: Can you take us through your research and development process?

After I decided I wanted to develop a device that detects lead contamination in water, I started researching. I had to learn a lot of new concepts to ensure my idea materializes. The next step was to look for mentors who would guide me through my research. I reached out to experts in the field of engineering, computer science, chemistry etc. In about two-three months I must have sent out at least 20 mails to people across the country and globally, of which just about three people responded with the intent of actually helping. Most people thought of me as an 11-year-old with a science project, and turned me down. Denver Water was generous enough to give me a space for accuracy testing of my device. I cannot be here without my mentors and they are the reason I could try a solution.

Q: How excited was being declared America’s Top Young Scientist?

It’s been two years. It’s definitely an amazing honour. The fact that I could give shape to all those hypothetical ideas in my mind and being appreciated for it is a great feeling. The biggest outcome from this recognition was life-long relationship with some amazing peers and my mentors.

Q: What are you working on currently?

I am now designing Epione, which is meant to diagnose prescription opioid addiction at an early stage so physicians across the world can make informed decisions before prescribing drugs. I am also on the verge of implementing an anti-cyberbullying solution that works seamless with all social media platforms using AI {artificial intelligence} and Natural Language Understanding.