Indian American Gitanjali Rao, 15, is TIME’s First-Ever ‘Kid of the Year’

Gitanjali Rao

TIME has honored a 15-year-old Indian American girl as its first-ever “Kid of the Year” for her creative use of technology to tackle issues such as contaminated drinking water, cyberbullying and opioid addiction.

 

Teen scientist: Gitanjali Rao, a young inventor from Denver, was chosen from a list of over 5,000 nominees for the historic recognition.

  • Actress and activist Angelina Jolie conducted a virtual interview with Rao via Zoom from her home in Colorado for the TIME special.
  • Rao said she began thinking about how she could use science to create social change when she was in second or third grade. 

  • At age 10, she told her parents that she wanted to research carbon nanotube sensor technology at the Denver Water Quality Research Lab.
  • She shared her process of taking on and solving a problem: ”Observe, brainstorm, research, build and communicate.”
  • Among her inventions is an app called Kindly which uses artificial ­intelligence technology to detect cyberbullying at an early stage.
  • “You type in a word or phrase, and it’s able to pick it up if it’s bullying, and it gives you the option to edit it or send it the way it is,” she explained. 

 

Not your typical scientist: Rao lamented the lack of diversity in the scientific community, noting that every scientist she sees on media is “an older, usually white man.”

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  • “It’s weird to me that it was almost like people had assigned roles… their gender, their age, the color of their skin,” she said.
  • This is why she now wants to inspire others and create an international community of young innovators to solve issues around the world.
  • “From personal experience, it’s not easy when you don’t see anyone else like you. So I really want to put out that message: If I can do it, you can do it, and anyone can do it.”
  • Rao has many other past accolades, including a spot on Forbes 30 Under 30 list last year, NPR reported.
  • During quarantine, she has also been doing “15-year-old things” like baking. “I bake an ungodly amount. It’s not good, but it’s baking. And, like, it’s science too,” she added.

Feature Image via TIME

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