Written By: Isabel Powell
Gitanjali Rao shocked the world when she was named Time Magazine’s first-ever Kid of the Year. She skyrocketed to fame, her youthful and genuine smile appearing on magazines and newsstands across the world. Such an honor is reflective of her dedication to using innovative scientific research as a tool to diminish disparity and resolve issues such as inequitable access to clean water, cyberbullying, and opioid addiction.
In her first fifteen years, Rao
has accomplished more than most others will in an entire lifetime. In addition to her numerous inventions and “innovation workshops,” Rao has won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, Time Top Young Innovator, and the United States EPA President’s Environmental Youth Award. She has been named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 and America’s Top Young Scientist. In addition to her scientific accolades and accomplishments, Rao enjoys baking, playing the piano, swimming, singing, and fencing!
Although only a teenager, Rao is already recognized for a variety of scientific creations and achievements. Her first device was inspired by the Flint water crisis, an environmental and public health disaster that exposed thousands of children in Flint, Michigan, to lead-contaminated water. Rao was motivated by this catastrophe to develop her first product: Tethys. Named after the Titan goddess of freshwater, Rao’s product uses carbon nanotubes to evaluate water quality and detect the presence of lead. The device uses Bluetooth technology to communicate measured, lead-induced changes in electrical resistance. Tethys is able to effectively detect the presence of lead in drinking water in order to determine whether it is safe to drink. Her innovation provided a feasible solution to the Flint water crisis and is potentially applicable to various other water-quality and public health issues across the world. Rao went on to work with the Denver water facility in order to develop a prototype of her device, which is an ongoing project.
After this first accomplishment, Rao continued to design and create products that could address the world’s crises. She developed Kindly, an app and Chrome extension that ingeniously detects cyberbullying using artificial intelligence. The program interjects when a user may use potentially harmful language and offers them a chance to craft a more diplomatic response. Founded on the belief that most people are not intentionally malicious, it passively corrects behavior and encourages kindness amongst teenagers. This creative solution to a pervasive social dilemma illustrates the breadth of Rao’s skills and reach in tackling profound issues.
Rao is also working on a device that uses epigenetics and genetic engineering to diagnose opioid addiction in its early stages so that it can be prevented and treated. Epione meas