For a 15-year-old girl, Gitanjali Rao has achieved what many of us would not have been able to in our entire lifetime. Recently, she became the first Kid of the Year to be featured on the Time magazine cover. However, despite being so young, hers wasn’t an overnight success either. Curiosity got the best of her and add to that, her intelligence and hard work that she reached where she is today at 15 years of age.
An inherent streak of brilliance
What ordinary children would think of making a social impact at an age of seven or eight? No one. But Gitanjali did.
Ever since she was in second or third grade, she aspired to bring a social change through science and technology. At 10, she told her family that she wanted to conduct research on carbon nanotube sensor technology at the Denver Water quality research lab. Her parents, Bharathi and Ram Rao, having a strong academic background themselves, wholeheartedly supported her, despite the fact that it sounded seemingly impossible for a 10-year-old girl.
Gitanjali’s first break
Finally, by the time she reached seventh grade, she had developed Tethys, a technology that detects lead compounds in water and determines whether the water is safe, slightly contaminated or critical, with the use of carbon nanotubes. Her ground-breaking innovation has come off as a saviour for the residents of Flint, Michigan, who were then battling with a severe crisis – a serious level of lead in drinking water.
Soon afterwards, she developed Kindly – an AI-based app, that can detect cyberbullying at an early stage, but there is no stopping Gitanjali Rao. She also developed a solution, Epione, in her bid to tackle the growing problem of prescription drug addiction. Working with human genetics, the portable device helps physicians detect if their patients are at the onset of addiction or not.
Apart from her back-to-back innovations, Gitanjali has been working closely with the stakeholders of various STEM organisations and schools including Shanghai International Youth Science and Technology group and the Royal Academy of Engineering in London. Through her weekly sessions and workshops, she has reached out to over 28,000 students globally so far.
Nevertheless, Gitanjali Rao is not your typical science nerd. Apart from science, she likes playing piano and is proficient in Indian classical dancing, singing, swimming and fencing. In an interview with actress Angelina Jolie for the Time magazine, she said, “Actually I spend more time doing 15-year old things during quarantine. I bake an ungodly amount. It’s not good, but it’s baking.” Well, at least we know it’s not ‘all work and no play’ for the young scientist!
Awards and Honours
- Winner of America’s top young scientist award
- Listed on Forbes 30 under 30 (2019)
- First Kid of the Year on the Time magazine cover
- 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge