Gitanjali Rao: time's kid of the year

December 6th, 2020. By Keira Tam '22

A fifteen-year-old Colorado scientist and inventor who uses science to help out immense crises such as contaminated drinking water, cyber bullying, and opioid addiction has been crowned Time Magazine's first-ever "Kid of the Year."

Time Magazine named fifteen-year-old Gitanjali Rao, a Colorado teen scientist and inventor who uses science to tackle various environmental and social issues, its first-ever “Kid of the Year”. She was selected from a group of more than 5,000 nominees by an advisory committee that consisted of Time for Kids kid reporters, Nickelodeon stars, Special Olympics and Laureus Sport for Good Foundation USA representatives, and comedian Trevor Noah. Time said that Rao stood out for creating a global community of innovators and teaching them how to tap into their curiosity.

Rao’s deep passion for science started at a very young age. In second or third grade, she started thinking about how we can use science and technology to create social change. During a Zoom interview with Angelina Jolie, she said that she “was like ten when [she] told [her] parents that [she] wanted to research carbon nanotube sensor technology at the Denver Water quality research lab.” The drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan inspired her to develop a way to detect contaminants in water and send results to a mobile device.

Rao also talked about her other incredible inventions. One of her latest inventions is an app called Kindly which uses artificial intelligence to discover the early stages of cyberbullying. Teens can type in a word or phrase to find out if it is considered bullying and lets them decide to edit the message or send it the way it is. She is working on a product that diagnoses prescription-­opioid addiction at an early stage based on the protein production of the mu-opioid receptor gene.

Furthermore, Rao partnered with rural schools, girls in STEM organizations, museums all across the world, and bigger organizations like Shanghai International Youth Science and Technology group and the Royal Academy of Engineering in London to run innovation workshops for thousands of students. She stated that “the students that I work with, they just don’t know where to start. I think that if you give them that spark that they can then build off of, then that changes everything. That means one more person in this world wants to come up with ideas to solve problems.” Recently, she hit her goal of mentoring 30,000 students.

Rao is currently working on an easy way to detect bio-contaminants in water, such as parasites. She hopes that this project is inexpensive and accurate so people in third-world countries can identify what is in their water.