Indian-American teenager Gitanjali Rao has been chosen as TIME's first-ever Kid of the Year for her work using 'technology to tackle issues ranging from contaminated drinking water to opioid addiction and cyberbullying'.
The 15-year-old from Colorado, US was selected from 5,000 nominees and was interviewed by Academy award-winning Hollywood actor Angelina Jolie for TIME.
Since a very young age, the aspiring scientist had begun thinking about how to use science and technology to bring about a social change in the global dynamics. Speaking to TIME, she said that at 10 years of age she had first mentioned to her parents about researching carbon nanotube sensor technology, which had left her mother pretty much in a state of confusion.
At the age of 11, Rao won the Discovery Education 3M Scientist Challenge and was listed by Forbes in "30 Under 30" list for her innovations.
Rao's latest discovery is an app called, Kindly, that detects cyberbullying at an early stage, based on artificial-intelligence technology.
In another similar development, Rao has developed another application called Tethys, a device that can measure the content of lead contamination in water with the help of carbon nanotubes.
At present, she is working on a product that will help to diagnose prescription-opioid addiction at an early stage based on protein production of the mu-opioid receptor gene.
In 2018, she was the prestigious recipient United States Environmental Protection Agency President’s Environmental Youth Award.
In the interview with TIME, the 15-year-old says, "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."
"If I can do it, you can do it, and anyone can do it," she added.
Rao is an ardent follower of MIT Tech Review and considers that her go-to pop culture news. "I read it constantly. I think that’s really where inspiration strikes: hearing about all these amazing people at schools like MIT and Harvard who are doing such amazing work with technology," said the young scientist.
Having an immense interest in genetics, Rao wants to further her higher education in genetics and epidemiology from MIT.