Gitanjali Rao taking award Beasts

Preteen Invents Device to Aid in Flint Water Crisis

As the rest of the country moved on from the Flint water crisis this 11-year-old got to work.

Gitanjali Rao is an 11-year-old Colorado native who spends her free time perusing the MIT Department of Materials Science and Engineering’s website. Just, like, regular 11-year-old stuff. But why? Fair question. She’s finding inspiration for her inventions.

Rao’s been closely following the Flint, Michigan, water crisis for the past two years, so when she was on the MIT website and stumbled upon an article talking about new technologies able to detect hazardous materials she had an idea: create a technology so those who live in areas with potentially unsafe water sources can quickly test it for cleanliness.

Rao’s parents – also engineers – knew this wasn’t an easy endeavor so they discouraged her a little at first. But Rao convinced high schools and universities to give her lab time to experiment, though most of her ‘spills and failures’ happened in her lab room at home.


Rao hard at work in her home lab
Rao hard at work in her home lab. Photo: Bharathi Rao


“I had been following the Flint, Michigan, issue for about two years,” Rao told ABC News. “I was appalled by the number of people affected by lead contamination in water and I wanted to do something to change this.”

Rao called her invention Tethys – the Titan daughter of fresh water in Greek mythology. Tethys consists of three parts – a cartridge equipped with chemically treated carbon nanotube arrays, a processor with Bluetooth capabilities, and a smartphone app that delivers the results.

Rao won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge which came with a $25,000 check, most of which she’ll put towards making her prototype commercially available for those who need it. And, unfortunately, a lot of people need it.

Rao says she plans on becoming a geneticist or epidemiologist. We have no doubt she’ll be great at either, or both.

Watch her speak and try not to weep with pride:


Claudette Colvin, Original Woman Who Refused to Give Up Her Seat

Before Rosa Parks sat down, there was Claudette.

Most history books forget that Claudette Colvin is an African-American who refused to give up her seat on the bus, nine months before Rosa Parks.

It was March 2nd, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, when Colvin paid her fare and refused to get up from the seat for a white woman. She’d been studying Black history in high school that month and felt inspired by Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. She felt the spirit of those two women pushing her down in her seat, telling her not to give it up.

“All I remember is that I was not going to walk off the bus voluntarily,” Colvin told NPR. She was put in handcuffs and taken to the local jail.


Claudette Colvin, age 15.


After the incident, her civil disobedience didn’t make much of a splash. She was young and soon became pregnant. Because of this, her courageous act went all but unnoticed for many years. In fact, people began to think of her as a ‘troublemaker’ within her community and she had difficulty finding employment, and soon moved to New York.

While the court decided she was guilty in her legal case and she was given probation, Colvin did go on to serve as a plaintiff in the historic Browder v. Gayle legal case, which ended the Montgomery Bus Boycott and segregation on public buses in the city.

Many think if it wasn’t for Colvin, the media wouldn’t have paid much attention to Rosa Parks and the movement that followed. For this, we offer her immense gratitude.

If you want to learn the rest of her story, peep her interview with Teen Vogue here. Then go read Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, authored by Phil Hoose.


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