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在美国,所有十几岁孩子心目中的英雄都是超人、蜘蛛侠,但是吉他加里·拉奥(Gitanjali Rao),这个刚刚 15岁、现在还在科罗拉多州的女孩子,被《时代周刊》杂志评选为2020年度“年度风云儿童”,成了全美国乃至全球的儿童发明英雄。
她曾发明了用于检测水中含铅量的仪器,,拯救了美国千千万万饱受水污染的人。据媒体透露,吉他加里·拉奥从4岁收到第一份化学实验盒开始,她就爱上了自己动手解决生活中的科学问题。
而,她发明的检测水质的装置的由来还是要从一则新闻说起,2014 年,美国密歇根州弗林特市以财政困难为由,将居民用水的水源由原来的底特律水,换成了附近的弗林特河。没过多久,居民就发现水的颜色、气味都不对劲,甚至出现了腹泻、头痛等症状。
当时不到 10 岁的小女孩吉他加里·拉奥(Gitanjali Rao)看到这些新闻,就一直苦苦思索有没有办法,让居民自己就可以准确迅速地检测到水质,而不用等到政府出面。为此,她说服父母在家里安置了一个实验室。
从那时起,当其他孩子都在外面疯闹的时候,拉奥却每天钻在实验室里,用了两年的时间,制造出了第一个原型机:即使对一个成年人来说,花两年的时间只钻研一件事也不是轻易可以完成的,这个 11 岁的小姑娘却做到了。
拉奥给这个发明起名为 Tethys ,这是希腊神话中海神妻子的名字,她掌管着水源。拉奥希望自己的发明也可以给大家带来干净的水源。
2017年,12岁的她登上了TED舞台,跟现场观众以及TED的全球Followers分享了自己这个发明的心路历程。
A 12-year-old inventor's 
device for detecting lead in water
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Rhonda Jacobs 17.6 million people exposed, 5,000 water systems with the lead contamination issues, and 5 million lead pipes still in the system.
We can't really talk about the state of our water without talking about lead contamination.
How sure are you that the water you are drinking is safe and contaminant-free? How often do you test for lead in your water? Why would you? It all started two years ago when I learned about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
Did you know that at peak lead levels reached about 127 parts per billion? That's about nine times as much as the EPA standards of 15 parts per billion.
I just couldn't accept the fact that there was a city in our country where thousands of children my age were exposed to a poison, causing life-long damage to their vital organs, mental capacity, and even their normal growth, just because they were using water in their daily lives.
Appallingly, this is not just an issue in Flint; this is a world-wide problem, and we have to do something about it.
Each and every one of us have the right to know our water quality and have access to clean drinking water.
I'm Gitanjali Rao, I'm 12 years old, and I love finding solutions to real-world problems.
(Applause) My journey has been about tackling one of the main challenges we face today, which is access to clean drinking water.
And along this journey, I developed a device that detects lead in water.
Well, my story has a whole lot of science; it speaks to something much larger.
It's also a story of how we can collectively solve problems in society and encourage science and technology.
Lead poisoning is harmful due to lingering effects it has on the human body.
So, the younger the child, the more impact.
A child can experience birth defects and abnormal growth with harmful levels of lead in their body.
Health effects of lead in water ranges anywhere from just headaches and nausea to possible seizures and even death.
When I initially thought about solving this problem, I thought about completely eliminating lead out of water.
However, that was pretty complex; it was like solving global warming with just one solution, like stopping all carbon emissions.
Digging deeper, I found that the lack of knowledge of the contamination, and the extent of contamination, was the bigger problem, mainly because it kept people away from finding alternatives sooner.
Then I realized that many people still don't know about how big lead in water is and that's when detection became my primary focus.
The current solutions in the market are either too cumbersome, expensive, or take time.
They don't look at detection accuracy and contamination levels together.
The solutions are either test strips which are not accurate, or is sending your water to your local water facility, which is inconvenient, expensive, and takes time.
I then realized that to solving problems my approach was a little bit unconventional.
In fact, now that I think about it, I'm a bit unconventional.
I'm 12 years old, and I love reading MIT's websites.
So instead of taking a problem and then breaking it down and then analyzing the individual portions, I like to play with the problem and the solution simultaneously.
And instead of completely reinventing a device from scratch, I like to look for the tools that already exist, and see if I can enhance or modify upon them to potentially solve problems.
I then learned that MIT and others have been working on using carbon nanotube-based sensor technology to detect hazardous gases in the air.
Then I decided that I wanted to expand this idea to apply for liquids as well, to detect lead in water.
Due to the complexity of detecting lead, especially in a liquid medium, this required a radically different approach from current techniques out there today, and using an emerging technology like carbon nanotubes seemed like a pretty logical extension and a promising solution.
So I decided to build one.
This is "Tethys" - the quick and accurate tool to detect lead in water.
It's based on carbon nanotube sensor technology, it's easy to use, fast, accurate, portable, and inexpensive.
Let me show you how it works.
"Tethys" consists of three parts: a core device housing a processor with a Bluetooth extension and a 9-volt battery, a disposable lead sensor cartridge that attaches to the core device and forms a circuit with a processor.
This disposable lead sensor cartridge includes specially treated carbon nanotubes with chloride ions.
However, I had to use a buckypaper form of carbon nanotubes due to the nature of my medium.
And the last component is a smartphone that can connects over Bluetooth to display results.
Let's say the water here has lead in it.
Again, this disposable lead sensor cartridge with the chloride doped carbon nanotube has specifically armchaired single-walled carbon nanotube.
When I dip this in the water I want to test, the lead in the water binds with the chloride ions in the nanotube, forming lead-chloride molecules, increasing the amount of resistance to the flow of current and decreasing the conducitvity.
The conductivity drop is correlated to the severity of the lead compounds in the water.
And to make it easier for the user, I added an Arduino processor to measure all resistance current and current values, and a Bluetooth extension to send all the data to your mobile phone on a custom app that I created, which gives you results of either safe, slightly contaminated, or critical.
(Applause) Wouldn't it be awesome if every household and school had a Tethys to detect lead in their water, and test for it once a month? Then we wouldn't have to hear heart-breaking stories about cities like Flint where lead poisoning and lead contamination has affected a whole generation.
I'm continuing to work on evolving my device even further.
I'm happy to unveil to you the latest version of my device.
It is more compact and also has better sensor usability.
I also recently received investment funding.
(Applause) So what I'm planning to do is make sure that the carbon nanotube-based sensor is more accurate by trying with other dopants such as fluorine and iodine.
Both of these ions have a very strong affinity to lead, but not to many other compounds in water, so that it won't result in false positives or false negatives.
Therefore I'm hoping that this will be more accurate than the chloride-doped carbon nanotube sensor.
So I've been partnering with Denver Water and other water facilities in order to perform my testing, since skill testing continues to be one of my primary focuses.
In the future, I hope to see my device operate like an IoT sensor, crowdsourcing device data for analytics and civic planning.
So, my journey to solving problems doesn't stop here.
To summarize, Tethys is a device that detects lead in water faster than current techniques out there today, and not only detects lead in water, but also gives you contamination results.
So, I'm not just stopping at Tethys.
I'm also volunteering and writing articles to spread more awareness about the water quality issue.
So I mentioned my journey, and I've shared my story with all of you, but truly, I wouldn't be here without the mentors who have guided and supported me along the way.
I started as a determined 11-year-old girl with an idea, and because of the support I received, I stand before you as a 12-year-old giving a TEDx talk about my invention.
(Applause) Innovation needs support, it needs mentors, it needs companies that foster innovation, even if they're a bit unconventional.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank my mentors for taking the time and energy to support me, and I hope many others benefit in the same way.
Lastly, I'm a girl in STEM.
This by itself - (Applause) This by itself shouldn't mean much, however, I have found girls in STEM increasingly rare.
As a society, I believe this is unacceptable.
I am determined to change this.
Thank you.
I've devoted my time, some of my prize money, and I've partnered with Children's Kindness Network in order to start STEM education programs combined with kindness.
Both of these together can help make the next generation make the world a better place.
And I believe that we should aspire to solve bigger problems.
I'm 12, and I want to make a difference.
And I believe that the purpose of science is to make a difference.
Science needs all available hands and intellects to come together and to solve the problems of today and tomorrow.
It needs all of us.
We need to come together and take action.
The invention of my device is motivated by a problem that I was passionate about solving.
Paraphrasing a quote by my favorite scientist, we've come a long way, but we still have so much more to do when we look ahead.
If we all recognize and alleviate the problems that our fellow citizens face, we can make the world a better place.
Thank you.
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