Young scientist and inventor Gitanjali Rao is the first ever ‘Kid of the Year’ of TIME Magazine.
The 15-year-old Indian-American from Denver, Colorado stood out among the thousands of US-based nominees.
A TIME article reads, “exceptional leadership is what made the ultimate ‘Kid of the Year’ a stand out. Rao not only researches scientific tools such as artificial intelligence and carbon nanotube sensor technology and applies them to problems she sees in everyday life, like cyber-bullying and water contamination. She also shows other kids how to tap into their curiosity, aspiring to create a generation of innovators.”
Even at a young age, Rao has shown deep passion for scientific innovation. She invented a device that can identify lead in drinking water, and an app and Chrome extension that uses artificial intelligence to detect signs of cyber-bullying.
In an interview with actor and humanitarian Angelina Jolie, Rao said, “I don’t like your typical scientist. Everything I see on TV is that it’s an older, usually white, man as a scientist.”
“My goal has really shifted, not only from creating my own devices to solve the world’s problems, but inspiring others to do the same as well.”– Gitanjali Rao
Rao said she draws inspiration from personal experiences, saying it is “not easy when you don’t see anyone else like you”.
The brilliant and high-spirited Rao explained that there was no specific “aha” moment for her passion. She revealed that her main goal is just to put a smile on people’s faces.
“When I was in second or third grade, I started thinking about how we can use science and technology to create social change. 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?”
She added that she gets ideas from reading MIT Tech Review. Hearing about all the amazing people at schools like MIT and Harvard made her want to create something herself.
Rao’s usual pattern when inventing follows this: observe, brainstorm, research, build and communicate. She inspires other young scientists and innovators to follow the same strategy with their projects. Rao hosts workshops with students from around the world to encourage them to pursue their passion.
She has already mentored 30,000 students, and is excited to see this community of innovators work on different projects.
“At the end of every workshop, everyone has something that they can start working on. If you can do this in 45 minutes to an hour, imagine what you can do if you spend months and months working on it.”
“If I can do it, you can do it, and anyone can do it,” Rao told Angelina Jolie over Zoom.
Even with her advanced mindset and skills, Rao revealed that she also spends time doing things a normal 15-year-old girl would do.
“I bake an ungodly amount. It’s not good, but it’s baking. And like, it’s science too.”
“To be fair, most of the time we don’t have eggs at home, or like flour, so I have to like go online and search eggless, flourless, sugarless cookies, and then I try to make that. I made bread recently and it was good, so I’m proud of myself.”
Gitanjali Rao is the first ever Kid of the Year awardee. TIME Magazine has been awarding its Man of the Year honor since 1927, later updating it to Person of the Year.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg became the youngest Person of the Year when she was given the award at age 16 last year.