The 11-year-old's invention was inspired by the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, where cost-cutting measures led to tainted drinking water that contained lead and other toxins. It also won her a $25,000 prize, for which Rao already has plans: "I plan to use most of it in developing my device further so that it can be commercially available soon," she said
Rao who attends the STEM School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, originally submitted the idea to the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, an annual youth science and engineering competition for middle school students in the US, inaugurated in 2008. She was awarded a 3-month mentorship with Kathleen Shafer, a research specialist who develops new plastics technologies: "Gitanjali's concept was at a very early stage at the beginning of our mentorship. She had thought of this idea earlier this year, only a few weeks before the submission deadline," Shafer said.