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Another Take on Water as Women’s Work


Gitanjali Rao at her home lab. Photo by Bharati Rao.

On this International Women’s Day we celebrate the girls and women who are advancing water ecology and safety. As we noted last year, women are the primary water providers for many impoverished rural families throughout South Asia, Latin America, and Africa. This requires walking miles each day, carrying water, and even then this precious resource is often fouled by pollution or disease.  Women are also the primary gatherers of shellfish and edible sea plants in many cultures, where again natural  resources are impacted by plastics, agricultural runoffs, spills, and sewage.

But women and girls are also leaders in finding solutions through science and engineering. Today we celebrate one example: Gitanjali Rao, who at 11-years old won the Discovery Education 3M Science Challenge for her invention to detect lead in water and relay results instantly to a cell phone. Gitanjali, a student at a STEM school in Colorado, was inspired when her parents (both engineers) tested for the toxin with a conventional kit. Such kits yield results in days, not seconds, because samples must be sent to a lab. She realized that in Flint, Michigan and other places affected by lead in water supplies that was unacceptably slow.

The young scientist’s system measures resistance in carbon nanotubes after uptake of lead from the water, though she’s refining the method because other materials can mimic that result. Gitanjali aims to become an epidemiologist or geneticist. No doubt Gitanjali will contribute advances to those fields too, and we hope she inspires generations of girls who follow.

HarborLAB aims to expand the inspiration and tools of science to include all youth, especially those without the monetary and educational resources that come with having engineers for parents. We need all the brains we can get on water issues, and too many NYC girls are being sidelined by sexism, poverty, and nature deficit disorder.  Whether aboard our boats or in the classroom, join HarborLAB in encouraging future scientists!

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