Student, scientist, baker: Meet Gitanjali Rao, Time’s first-ever ‘Kid of the Year’
Selected from more than 5,000 nominees as Time’s first-ever ‘Kid of the Year’, 15-year-old Gitanjali Rao was chosen for her “astonishing work” and using technology to tackle issues from contaminated drinking water to opioid addiction and cyberbullying.
Time said Rao, a sophomore at STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado’s Denver, stood out for creating a global community of young innovators and inspiring them to pursue their goals. Rao told The Associated Press in a Zoom interview from her home that the prize is “nothing that I could have ever imagined. And I’m so grateful and just so excited that we’re really taking a look at the upcoming generation and our generation since the future is in our hands.”
Here is what you should know about the Indian American:
1. Rao developed a portable device to detect lead in water when she was 12 years old. She told actor, activist and Time contributing editor Angelina Jolie in a Zoom interview that the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, inspired her work to develop a way to detect contaminants and send those results to a mobile phone.
2. “I was like 10 when I told my parents that I wanted to research carbon nanotube sensor technology at the Denver Water quality research lab, and my mom was like, “A what?” Rao told Jolie. She said that work “is going to be in our generation’s hands pretty soon. So if no one else is gonna do it, I’m gonna do it.” The sensor technology involves molecules of carbon atoms that can detect chemical changes, including chemicals in water.
3. She has created Epione, a device that diagnoses prescription opioid addiction at an early stage.
4. She’s also devised an app called Kindly that uses artificial intelligence to help prevent cyberbullying. It allows teens to type in a word or phrase to find out if the words they are using are bullying and lets them decide to edit what they are sending or to proceed.
5. Rao has partnered with rural schools; museums; science, technology, engineering and mathematics organisations; and other institutions to run innovation workshops for thousands of other students.
6. She was featured in the web series Marvel’s Hero Project as Genius Gitanjali for her valuable contributions to society. “I think that being a scientist is like being a superhero, because superheroes save people, and want to do what is best for their society – scientists do the same exact thing,” she had earlier told Google.
7. The high school student has been featured in the Forbes 30 under 30 list and spoken at several TED events.
8. She has also won the EPA Presidential Award, George Stephenson Innovation Award 2020, Kumon 2019 Student Inspirational Award, TCS Ignite Innovation Top Health Pillar Award among others.
9. She is also an author. Her A Young Innovative Guide to STEM was published by Simon and Schuster in March this year. She has also written Baby Brother Wonders on the curiosity of her younger brother.
10. Rao is also a baker. “Actually, I spend more time doing 15-year-old things during quarantine. I bake an ungodly amount. It’s not good, but it’s baking. And, like, it’s science too,” she said when asked by Jolie if she does things that kids her age do.
(With agency inputs)
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