Fifteen-year old Indian American scientist and innovator from Denver, CO., Gitanjali Rao has been named TIME magazine’s Kid of the Year for her exceptional leadership.
This year, TIME magazine, in partnership with Nickelodeon, is recognizing its first ever Kid of the Year, in the United States, as “a barometer” for the rising leaders of America’s youngest generation.
— TIME (@TIME) December 3, 2020
She was chosen from five finalists narrowed down from more than 5,000 U.S.-based nominees judged on the positive impact they have had this year and signs that they’ll continue to lead in the future.
The other finalists designed better toys for kids with disabilities, and started new conversations about racial justice. They include Tyler Gordon, 14, from San Jose, CA; Jordan Reeves, 14, from Columbia, MO; Bellen Woodard, 10, from Leesburg, VA; and Ian McKenna, 16, from Austin, TX.
According to her interview in TIME, 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 cyberbullying and water contamination. She also shows other kids how to tap into their curiosity, aspiring to create a generation of innovators.
One of Rao’s latest innovations, a service called Kindly—an app and a Chrome extension—helps prevent cyberbullying.
Based on artificial-intelligence technology, the software is able to identify words from a sentence that could be considered cyberbullying and offers the user to edit it or send it the way it is. Rao’s goal is to give people a chance to rethink what they are saying.
Rao, who has been interested in science since she was five, also developed a fully functional device called TETHYS that detects lead in drinking water faster and more inexpensively than existing methods.
According to the news report, Rao was greatly inspired by the Flint Water Crisis and found it unacceptable that kids her age were essentially drinking a poison every day.
Based on carbon nanotubes sensor technology, her device provides all the results to a user’s mobile phone on an app that Rao created.
“I’m currently working on an easy way to help detect bio-contaminants in water—things like parasites. I’m hoping for this to be something that’s inexpensive and accurate so that people in third-world countries can identify what’s in their water,” Rao told Angelina Jolie, an Academy Award–winning actor and a TIME contributing editor, in an interview.
Rao recently hit her goal of mentoring 30,000 students, which for her, the report said.
She has partnered with rural schools, girls in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) organizations, museums all across the world, and organizations like Shanghai International Youth Science and Technology group and the Royal Academy of Engineering in London, to run her innovation workshops.
Rao says she loves animals and wants to visit Madagascar as soon as the pandemic is over. She has tried virtual fencing and calligraphy during the pandemic. She also loves baking.
Each of this year’s five finalists will be designated a TIME for Kids Kid Reporter, given opportunities to contribute to TIME, and will receive a cash prize from ViacomCBS, Nickelodeon’s owner, according to the magazine.
The TIME’s Kid of the Year broadcast special was scheduled to take place on Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m. ET on Nickelodeon.