Gitanjali Rao, Karlie Kloss & Megan Smith | 2018 MAKERS Conference
Gitanjali Rao, America’s Top Young Scientist of 2017, demonstrates her lead-detection device built in response to the Flint, Michigan water crisis
- Gitanjali Rao, come on out.
- Another superstar. Yay.
- She's going to tell you what she's doing. We're going to come over here. We'll be back with you, OK? Let's hear it.
GITANJALI RAO: All right. How many of us are absolutely sure that the water we are drinking is safe and contaminant free. For those of you who somehow know, you should be considered lucky. I'd like you to meet Maniah, Opamepo, and Nicholas.
They are residents of Flint and are among thousands of adults and children exposed to the harmful effects of lead in drinking water. However, this is not just limited to Flint. Approximately 5,000 water systems in the United States alone have lead and can cause lead poisoning and other health effects.
This is also a worldwide problem. Health effects of lead in water range from just headaches and nausea to possible seizures and even death. To add on, approximately 17.6 million people had lead in their water and did not know about it for months after.
The current solutions in the market are either too cumbersome, take time, or are expensive. They don't look at detection, accuracy, and contamination levels together. The happenings in places like Flint and the impact it is having on our community inspired me to look for a solution.
Introducing Tethys, the quick and accurate tool to detect lead contamination in water. It is based on the idea of carbon nanotube sensor technology. And MIT material science is working on using nanotube sensors in order to detect various gases. I decided to expand this idea to apply for liquids as well, to detect lead in water.
Let's look at how it works. My device includes three parts, a core device housing a processor, a Bluetooth extension, and a power source; a disposable sensor cartridge that attaches to the core device; and lastly, a smartphone that connects over Bluetooth to display results. Let's look at the science side of this. When I dip my device in the water I want to test, this disposable sensor cartridge includes carbon nanotubes specially treated with chloride ions.
Let's say the water here has lead in it. The lead in the water reacts to the chloride ions within the nanotube, forming lead chloride molecules. This increases the amount of resistance to the flow of current, as well as decreases the conductivity. I'm measuring the conductivity drop and the resistance change using the programmed processor.
To make it easier for the user, I decided to add a Bluetooth extension, which sends all the data to a custom app on your mobile phone, which displays easy values of safe, slightly contaminated, or critical. I'm currently working on evolving my device even further by redesigning the device structure for ease and compactness. Also by refining the carbon nanotube sensor for accuracy.
I am currently partnering with Denver water in order to perform tasks that require correct instrumentation, such as interference and false positives. I hope to spread awareness by volunteering for the River Watch of Colorado and writing articles as well. I believe that the purpose of science is to make a difference.
I want to thank Makers, Discovery Education, and 3M for giving me the opportunity to participate in the competition, learn more about innovation, and also be here to speak with all of you and share my story.
- Gitanjali, that was really awesome.
GITANJALI RAO: Thank you.
- So I was just at the Sundance Film Festival, and one of the new films is called Inventing Tomorrow.
GITANJALI RAO: Yes.
- And it's got kids who are in high school. They're just-- you're in seventh grade right now. But it's starting--
- Isn't that crazy?
- Isn't that awesome.
- Seventh grade.
- But one of the things that-- you know, I was lucky because I went to inner city public school, but my seventh grade science teacher required--
- OK. We'll do more. We'll do that. You know, the kids in-- my science teacher, our science teachers made us do science fair as part of the curriculum. And so we just did this for science class. And so thinking of it more like PE and art and how you just do it is what you guys--
So you're in a science magnet right now. Can you talk a little bit-- you used an Arduino. I happen to have an Arduino here. Doesn't everybody have an Arduino? This is just a little board in your cell phone. What are you doing at school that's helping you see that you can do things like this, you can just fix stuff, and work with your friends, and that. Talk a little bit about that.
GITANJALI RAO: Yes, so I have a lot of mentors along my way. Like 3M scientists who help me out. Dr. Chafer and some of the staff at Denver Water, such as Dr. Hernandez Ruiz. And they really helped me understand more about innovation, the instrumentation, and that girls can have the capability to do STEM-related activities and innovate as well.
- Carlie's working a lot on trying to get over those stereotypes, right?
GITANJALI RAO: Yeah.
- And so the kind of media that you're doing.
- Yeah. I wasn't doing this in seventh grade though. Let's be clear.
- It's pretty awesome.
- So I think, you know, one of the things I thought when Flint happened is I wanted-- I wished that we had been where you are now. And that all the young people, that maybe the seventh graders could together have measured all the water in the country. Because we would have taught people how to do that. And then you could have shared your data sets and started working with adults, who might help. Who might be ahead of you, or maybe some seniors in high school, who might be ahead of you.
But you can think about the way that we write Wikipedia all together. Why aren't we working on this? And the young people in Pine Ridge have a lot of uranium and other challenges on that reservation. And so they've just started to do what you're doing, Internet of things. And testing.
Where do you see that could happen if all the kids were connected? And what would you guys do together?
GITANJALI RAO: Yes, so that would be a dream come true. If all girls, and even boys, my age
- We'll let the boys in a little bit, just a little.
GITANJALI RAO: My age middle schoolers, if we all learned to innovate, come together, solve problems. Something that I think would really make an impact on this really happening today, is for everyone to find a mentor out there. And so, I urge each and every one of you to take in a student as a mentee and guide them along the path that they are passionate about. I'm passionate about innovation. And together, we can make a difference, really. It's--
- I agree entirely. I agree. It's really awesome to see your dad is here with you. My dad was a huge, huge advocate. He was always so excited about NASA and instilled that in me. I get so excited about space things. It's true. The impact you can have on one person, it can be game changing for their life.
- And use the network to just ask for other resources, take them places. The other thing is we face a lot of hard challenges. When I was doing science fair, my friend Myra was doing a project in a place called Love Canal, which was a huge Superfund disaster for the country.
And on our panel, one of her judges was from Hooker Chemical. And so we had really interesting learning about politics, and about how stuff-- so having kids in on our hardest problems with us, as part of their schooling, which is what Laurene Jobs is doing with XQ school movement. And so, I'm going to look forward to learning more about your school and what we call-- is not just smart city, but wise community. And you are part of the leaders of the wise community. So thank you.
- Thank you.