Indian American Teen Scientist-Inventor Gitanjali Rao Named First ‘TIME Kid of the Year’

TIME, TIME for Kids and Nickelodeon Dec. 3 announced that 15-year-old scientist and inventor Gitanjali Rao from Colorado has been chosen as the 2020 Kid of the Year, the multiplatform initiative recognizing extraordinary young leaders who are making a positive impact in their communities.

Selected from a field of more than 5,000, the Indian American teen is featured on the Dec. 14 cover of TIME, available on newsstands Dec. 4.

In an interview with Angelina Jolie for TIME, Rao spoke about her work using technology to tackle issues ranging from contaminated drinking water to opioid addiction and cyberbullying, the release said.

“I don’t look like your typical scientist. Everything I see on TV is that it’s an older, usually white man as a scientist. It’s weird to me that it was almost like people had assigned roles, regarding like their gender, their age, the color of their skin,” she said in her interview.

“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. Because, from personal experience, it’s not easy when you don’t see anyone else like you,” she added. “So I really want to put out that message: If I can do it, you can do it, and anyone can do it.”

The full interview and TIME cover story can be read here:

Rao, of Lone Tree, Colorado, is an American inventor, author and a STEM promoter. She won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge in 2017. She was recognized on the Forbes 30 U 30 list for her innovations. She was named TIME Top Young Innovator earlier this year for her innovations and “innovation workshops” she conducts across the globe.

Rao attends STEM School Highlands Ranch. According to her bio, she wants to study genetics and epidemiology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Rao heard about the Flint water crisis while watching the news and became interested in ways to measure the lead content in water, her bio adds.

She developed a device based on carbon nanotubes that could send such information via bluetooth. She collaborated with a research scientist at 3M.

For winning the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, Rao was awarded $25,000 for her invention, Tethys, which contains a 9-volt battery, a lead sensing unit, a bluetooth extension and a processor. It uses carbon nanotubes, whose resistance changes in the presence of lead.

She plans to work with scientists and medical professionals to investigate the potential of Tethys as a viable method to measure lead content in water. Rao presented her idea at the 2018 MAKERS conference and raised a further $25,000.

As of January 2019, she was working with the Denver water facility and hopes to have a prototype in the next two years, her bio notes.

Rao is also a 3-time TEDx Speaker. In September 2018 Rao was awarded the United States Environmental Protection Agency President’s Environmental Youth Award.

Rao was also awarded the Top “Health” Pillar Prize for the TCS Ignite Innovation Student Challenge in May 2019 for developing a diagnostic tool based on advances in genetic engineering for early diagnosis of prescription opioid addiction, the bio adds.

As the 2020 Kid of the Year, Rao, alongside the other top finalists and honorees, will be recognized during the first-ever Kid of the Year TV special, hosted by Trevor Noah. The special will simulcast across Nickelodeon, TV Land, TeenNick and Nicktoons Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m.

The Kid of the Year TV special will feature guest stars from entertainment, sports and pop culture to help surprise the top five Kid of the Year honorees and celebrate their work.

Celebrity guests making appearances throughout the special include Kristen Bell, Simone Biles, Dixie D’Amelio, Billie Eilish, Rob Gronkowski, Neil Patrick Harris, Chris Hemsworth, Ken Jeong, Angelina Jolie, Chloe Kim, Brie Larson, Zachary Levi, Russell Westbrook and Malala Yousafzai, among others, the release said.

Each of the top five Kid of the Year honorees will receive a cash prize from Nickelodeon and have the opportunity to serve as a ‘Kid Reporter’ for TIME for Kids with exclusive access to a Nickelodeon event.

Rao’s latest innovation is Kindly, an app and a Chrome extension, which uses machine learning technology to detect early traces of cyberbullying.

“I started to hard-code in some words that could be considered bullying, and then my engine took those words and identified words that are similar. 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,” Rao explained to Jolie over a video call.

“The goal is not to punish. As a teenager, I know teenagers tend to lash out sometimes. Instead, it gives you the chance to rethink what you’re saying so that you know what to do next time around.”

Source: India West

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