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Cape Town - An 11-year-old Gitanjali Rao from Colorado was named 'America's Top young scientist' after she created a sensor that can be used to detect lead in water.

She claims to have came up with the idea after she learnt about the ongoing Flint water crisis.

"I used all of these current gaps in the solutions and tried to develop a device that was inexpensive, portable, accurate and gives you instantaneous results," she said. 

The device is linked to a mobile app, which ensures access to results almost immediately.

Currently, testing for lead in water is expensive and sending away samples for analysis is time-consuming.

She is believed to have been awarded with $25 000 (about R343 000) for her invention that uses carbon nanotubes to detect the presence of lead.

Rao aptly named the device, Tethys, which is named after the Greek goddess for water.

The bright girl was selected from 10 finalists who had spent months working with scientists to develop their ideas.

Innovations developed by  remaining finalists include the identification of a molecule that could possibly be used to treat Alzheimer's disease as well as a robot that helps reduce water wastage.

Rao aspired to be a geneticist or epidemiologist when she is older.

Rao has plans to refine the device and sell it to people who lives in areas where lead contamination is a serious problem.

Thousands of US water systems are apparently contaminated by lead.

Lead has several health impacts including damage to the nervous system, learning disabilities, headaches, slowed growth, reproductive and digestive problems.