Gitanjali Rao

Gitanjali Rao

Tethys: An early detection tool to test water for lead and other dangerous contaminants

In second grade, Gitanjali Rao was already thinking about how she could use science and technology to make people’s lives better. While watching the news with her parents, Gitanjali heard about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, where 40% of homes were receiving dangerously contaminated water, causing residents to suffer from rashes, patchy scalps, and—worst of all—brain damage in young children. She couldn't sleep that night because she kept thinking about how unfair it was that kids her age couldn’t access clean drinking water. The next morning, she resolved to find a way to help. 

Gitanjali Rao pipetting while working in Dr. McMurray’s lab

After more than a year of research, brainstorming, prototyping, and testing, Gitanjali invented a device that uses nanotechnology to test water for contaminants and deliver fast, accurate results—all before she turned 11 years old. Gitanjali decided to name the device “Tethys,” for the Greek goddess of fresh water. On August 10, 2021, she received U.S. Patent 11,085,907 B2 for her invention.

Now, Gitanjali holds innovation workshops all across the world. She shares her simple mantra of “Observe, brainstorm, research, build, and communicate” to inspire young people to innovate and invent solutions to the problems they see in the world. Through her workshops and TED Talks, Gitanjali has inspired more than 40,000 students on four continents. She was honored in Forbes 2019 “30 Under 30 in Science” and named TIME’s Kid of the Year in 2020. In 2021, she published “A Young Inventor's Guide to STEM,” a book for students and teachers that builds on her innovation methods. She is currently enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she plans to study biological engineering, entrepreneurship, and innovation.

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