Child inventor wins £18,000 science prize

Genius: Rao’s invention is named Tethys, the name for the Greek goddess of fresh water. © Discovery Education

Can you ever be too young to change the world? An 11-year-old girl has won an £18,000 science prize for an invention which could save lives. How hard would it be for you to match this?

What’s happening

At only 11 years old, Gitanjali Rao has won an award worth £18,000 and the title of “America’s top young scientist”. Her invention? A device which tests drinking water for lead. Lead can kill humans if consumed even in small quantities. Rao hopes her machine will be used “around the world”.

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She was sparked into action by a crisis in the American city Flint in Michigan. There the water supply has been contaminated with chemicals, making some people very ill. When Rao saw her mother testing their own drinking water supply, she was inspired to help.

The machine she made is much faster and more accurate than other traditional methods. Now she wants to put it in “everybody’s hands”.

There is a long tradition of young people making life-changing inventions. For example, Louis Braille was just 12 years old when he started making a system to allow blind people to read. By the age of 15 he had completed his work. To this day the Braille alphabet opens up the magical world of books to the blind.

Should more kids try to change the world?

Some say…

You can never be too young to change the world, some argue. Particularly in the modern world where the internet gives access to so much information — whether you are young or old, rich or poor. If anything, the fundamental keys to success like curiosity and enthusiasm are even stronger in children. With a little luck, anything is possible.

Others think…

We should not pressurise young people too much though, others say. People like Rao and Braille are exceptional, but for the majority it is OK to take things a little slower. Most people need time to grow and discover things from experience. Some of the best inventions happen when people learn from their mistakes — and this process can take time.

You Decide

  1. Can you be too young to be a scientist?


  1. Can you think of any problems which people face in the world? They could be small issues or big ones. Discuss your ideas with a classmate. Now imagine you are an inventor and you want to design a machine to help fix one of these problems. Draw out your design for this machine. Make sure you include labels describing its parts and how it would work.

Some People Say...

“It takes a long time to become young.”

Pablo Picasso

What do you think?

Word Watch

A type of metal.
A state in the Midwest region of the USA.
Made impure or unclean by being mixed with a polluting or poisonous substance.
Written language in which letters are represented by raised dots on a page interpreted by a reader’s fingertips.
Very important, a necessary base.
The desire to find out, eager to learn.
Unusual or rare.


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