'TIME' Names Teen Inventor First-Ever 'Kid Of The Year'

by Cassandra Stone

A 15-year-old scientist and inventor has been named Time magazine’s first “Kid of the Year”

Gitanjali Rao, from Denver, Colorado, has been chosen as TIME Magazine‘s first-ever “Kid of the Year.” Rao invented several technologies spanning different fields, including a device that can identify lead in drinking water, and an app and Chrome extension that uses artificial intelligence to detect cyberbullying.

TIME announced the award Thursday, crediting Rao’s ability to apply scientific ideas to real-world problems and her desire to motivate other kids to take up their own causes as the reason they chose her. She was chosen from a field of 5,000 US-based nominees and five finalists.

In a Zoom interview for TIME conducted by none other than Angelina Jolie, Rao explained her scientific process: “Observe, brainstorm, research, build and communicate.”

Rao was placed on the famous Forbes 30 under 30 list last year after she responded to the Flint, Michigan water crisis by creating a device named Tehys, which uses carbon nanotube sensors to detect lead in water. She went on to collaborate with scientists in the water industry to try to get the device on the market.

More recently, Rao has developed a phone and internet tool called Kindly, which uses artificial intelligence technology to detect possible signs of cyberbullying aimed for kids.

“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 tells TIME. “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.”

Rao tells Jolie that she hopes she shifts the societal perspective of what a scientist looks like, or can look like. “I don’t look like your typical scientist,” she said. “Everything I see on TV is that it’s an older, usually white, man as a scientist. 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. So I really want to put out that message: If I can do it, you can do it, and anyone can do it.”

Someone give this girl ALL THE AWARDS. She is undeniably paving the way for a seismic shift in not only what scientists look like, but she exemplifies the value we need to place on newer generations and their contributions to the field.

TIME will choose its Person of the Year next year. In 2019, Greta Thunberg was awarded the honor, becoming the youngest person to win the award at just 16 years old.