Gitanjali, a seventh grader, was able to witness just how hard testing for lead could be through the demonstrated attempts of her parents Bharathi Rao and Ram Rao, both engineers, who'd begun testing water in their own home, in Lone Tree, Colorado.
Gitanjali Rao may be young, but she was just named "America's Top Young Scientist" for her simple and cost-effective device that can detect lead in water.
"I had been following the Flint, Michigan, issue for about two years", Rao told ABC News.
Rao conceived the idea of developing the device when she saw her parents testing for lead in their water.
Currently, lead levels are tested with strips - which work quickly but are often unreliable - or sent to the EPA for testing - which is expensive and takes time.
"I went, 'Well, this is not a reliable process and I've got to do something to change this, ' " the seventh-grader told Business Insider. After reading about some new technologies used to detect hazardous substances on MIT's website (casual), she made a decision to test the process on lead in water.
And she set about devising a more efficient solution: a device that could identify lead compounds in water, and was portable and relatively low-priced.
On asked why she entered the competition, Gitanjali said, "I entered the Young Scientist Challenge because it combines my love of science, solving problems by new inventions, and creating films".
"Clean water always tastes good", she says at the end of her video. "The tool allows easy testing at home or agencies for quick detection and remedial action. I hope this helps in a small way to detect and prevent long-term effects for lead contamination for many of us".
She beat nine other finalists to be named "America's Top Young Scientist" in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, a national competition for middle school students held in St. Paul, Minn.
Over the course of the summer, Rao worked with 3M scientists to bring her proposed sensor to life. Thankfully, help came in the form of Big Science.
Gitanjali Rao was selected from 10 finalists who had spent three months collaborating with scientists to develop their ideas.