Gitanjali Rao named America’s top Young Scientist in nation, several Indian-Americans among finalists

Gitanjali Rao (Photo:


11-year-old Gitanjali Rao from Lone Tree, Colo. was declared the winner Oct. 18, of the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, considered the premier national middle-school science competition.

The competition which is administered by 3M (@3M) and Discovery Education (@DiscoveryEd) chose the Indian-American girl for her work to develop Tethys, a sensor-based device that can detect lead in water faster than other current techniques.






Following the Flint water pollution tragedy, Gitanjali began working on this project which, rather than using expensive equipment for testing, uses a cost-effective approach to water safety using a mobile app that populates the water’s status almost immediately, a press release from organizers said. The portability of the devise makes it easy to carry and used whenever needed. Gitanjali hopes to solve the water contamination crisis and decrease long-term health effects from lead exposure.

Laalitya Acharya (Photo:

A seventh-grader at STEM School and Academy, Gitanjali competed alongside nine other finalists during a live competition at the 3M Innovation Center in St. Paul, Minn. She was awarded the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist” as well as a $25,000 prize. There were five other Indian-Americans/South Asian Americans among the top 9 finalists –
Rithvik Ganesh, an eighth-grader at C.M. Rice Middle School from Plano, Texas, received second place; Laalitya Acharya, a ninth-grader at William Mason High School in Mason, Ohio; Anika Bhagavatula, a ninth-grader at Wilton High School in Wilton, Conn.; and Samu Shreshtha, a ninth-grader from Highlands Ranch High School in Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Samu Shrestha (Photo:

During the past three months, Gitanjali and the other finalists worked directly with a 3M scientist to develop their innovations as part of a unique summer mentorship program. Gitanjali was paired with Dr. Kathleen Shafer, a 3M research specialist who develops new plastics technologies that have real-world applications in dentistry and other fields.

Each of the students collaborated with some of 3M’s leading scientists, who provided guidance as they worked through the scientific method to advance their ideas from a theoretical concept into a physical prototype.

Rithvik Ganesh (Photo:

During the final competition, the finalists presented their inventions to a panel of 3M scientists, school superintendents and administrators from across the country.

Rithvik built upon existing research to conduct tests and identify one lead molecule from Apigenin, a compound found in fruits and vegetables, that could potentially be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease. Looking forward, Rithvik hopes to take his findings through in vitro and in vivo testing and improve thousands of lives affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

Anika Bhagavatula (Photo:

Laalitya invented ELIE – or “Environmentally Low Impact Energy” device – that generates energy from multiple sources to increase alternative energy use in the U.S. and across the world. Her prototype uses a low-flow low-head, portable water turbine, piezos and solar panels to generate electricity in multiple environments.

Anika invented EcoBoom, a natural solution to clean up oil spills using pomegranate husks and orange peels. Anika’s research on major oil spills in the U.S. led her to develop a protoype that can absorb oil four-to-five times its weight. Major oil spill incidents, which can cause approximately 1.3 million gallons of petroleum to spill into U.S. waters each year, inspired Anika to explore cost-effective, biodegradable options that can remedy this national and global issue.

Samu developed a mobile app that provides individuals with disabilities control of computer or mobile devices by using head movements, facial expressions and hand gestures. He was inspired to help a classmate with disabilities manipulate mobile devices like the rest of his classmates. Samu’s innovation could unlock interaction with the digital world for individuals with disabilities and bridge the interaction gap for internet users worldwide.

The remaining nine finalists received $1,000 and a variety of prizes from Discovery Education and 3M. The second, third and fourth runners-up also received a trip to a taping of a show on Discovery’s family of networks. In addition to presenting their prototypes, the ten finalists paired up to compete in two additional challenges through which they combined multiple 3M technologies to solve real-world problems.

Since its inception, the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in student prizes, paired students with world-renowned scientists to give them real-world insights and delivered much-needed science resources to millions of students, teachers and families across the country, the company said in its press release.



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