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First-Ever "Kid of the Year" is Indian origin Gitanjali Rao: TIME Magazine

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Meet TIME's First-Ever Kid of the Year

Meet the TIME Kid of the Year: Gitanjali Rao

BY TIME STAFF
DECEMBER 3, 2020 7:00 AM EST

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The world belongs to those who shape it. And however uncertain that world may feel at a given moment, the reassuring reality seems to be that each new generation produces more of what these kids—five Kid of the Year finalists selected from a field of more than 5,000 Americans, ages 8 to 16—have already achieved: positive impact, in all sizes.
Read about how we picked the Kid of the Year here. And watch TIME’s Kid of the Year broadcast special on Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m. ET on Nickelodeon.
Sharif Hamza for TIME

Kid of the Year: Gitanjali Rao, 15
Lone Tree, Colo.
“Observe, brainstorm, research, build and communicate.” That is what the brilliant young scientist and inventor Gitanjali Rao told actor and activist Angelina Jolie about her process, over Zoom, from her home in Colorado, during a break in her virtual schooling. Just 15 years old, Rao has been selected from a field of more than 5,000 nominees as TIME’s first ever Kid of the Year. She spoke about her astonishing work using technology to tackle issues ranging from contaminated drinking water to opioid addiction and cyberbullying, and about her mission to create a global community of young innovators to solve problems the world over. Even over video chat, her brilliant mind and generous spirit shone through, along with her inspiring message to other young people: don’t try to fix every problem, just focus on one that excites you. “If I can do it,” she said, “anybody can do it.”
Jolie, a TIME contributing editor, is an Academy Award–winning actor and special envoy of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees

ANGELINA JOLIE: When did you know that science was a passion of yours?

GITANJALI RAO: I feel like there wasn’t really one specific aha moment. I was always someone who wanted to put a smile on someone’s face. That was my everyday goal, just to make someone happy. And it soon turned into, How can we bring positivity and community to the place we live? And then when I was in second or third grade, I started thinking about how can we use science and technology to create social change. I was like 10 when I told my parents that I wanted to research carbon nanotube sensor technology at the Denver Water quality research lab, and my mom was like, “A what?” [Editor’s note: they are cylindrical molecules made of carbon atoms that are very sensitive to chemical changes, and thus are good for detecting chemicals in water, among other uses.] It was just that changing factor of, you know this work is going to be in our generation’s hands pretty soon. So if no one else is gonna do it, I’m gonna do it.

AJ: I love that. So much of what my generation should be doing is just making sure we do as little damage as possible to ensure that the next generation can take the lead.
I know one of your latest innovations helps prevent cyberbullying. Could you tell me about that?

GR: It’s a service called Kindly—there’s an app and a Chrome extension—which is able to detect cyberbullying at an early stage, based on artificial-intelligence technology. 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. 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.

AJ: So you just put it on your kids’ phones?

GR: Yeah. I put out a survey to parents, teachers and students, and I honestly expected that students don’t want to be micromanaged.

AJ: Right. My kids would be like, “Don’t touch my phone, I’ll do it myself.”

GR: No, exactly, that’s what I would be like. But a lot of the teenagers were telling me that, you know, it doesn’t seem like I’m being micromanaged; it seems like I’m being given an opportunity to learn from my mistakes. So that’s what I was superexcited about, that they understood what the goal of it was.

AJ: The way you’re talking about technology as a tool to remind people and help them to grow seems like a very new and different thing. It’s so exciting to have such a forward-thinking young, and female, inventor.
Does that affect you in any way? It’s surprising because I think of women as being brilliant, but there are so few women in the science and tech fields.

GR: 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. 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.
AJ: I know you have these “innovation sessions.” Tell me about those.
Gitanjali Rao loves to problem-solve and experiment with everything from artificial-intelligence technology to baking

Sharif Hamza for TIME

GR: I just looked at what worked for me and decided to share it with everyone else. So I made this process that I use for everything now: it’s observe, brainstorm, research, build, communicate. It started with a simple presentation and lesson plans, and then I started adding labs and contests that students could do. Now I’ve partnered with rural schools, girls in STEM organizations, museums all across the world, and bigger organizations like Shanghai International Youth Science and Technology group and the Royal Academy of Engineering in London to run innovation workshops.
The students that I work with, they just don’t know where to start. I think that if you give them that spark that they can then build off of, then that changes everything. That means one more person in this world wants to come up with ideas to solve problems.
At the end of every workshop, everyone has something that they can start working on. If you can do this in 45 minutes to an hour, imagine what you can do if you spend months and months working on it. I’m so excited when I get an email like, “Hey, I attended your workshop four months ago and here’s my finished product, I really love it, it’s a shoe that calls 911.”

AJ: That is insanely impressive. For so many young people, it takes a lot to find the confidence to be able to put an idea forward. You have a brilliant mind, clearly, but you are very, very generous with that mind, and that’s just really wonderful. What are you working on now?

GR: I’m currently working on an easy way to help detect bio-contaminants in water—things like parasites. I’m hoping for this to be something that’s inexpensive and accurate so that people in third-world countries can identify what’s in their water.
And I recently hit my goal of 30,000 students who I have mentored, which is superexciting. It’s like creating a community of innovators. I really hope the work that all of these kids are doing identifies innovation as a necessity and not something that’s a choice anymore. I hope I can be a small part of that.

AJ: I think you are. Your generation is unique. You don’t just accept what’s being put forward, but really question it, and that’s so important. I know there are many, many issues we’re facing today. With your work on water contamination, is the environment something that’s very much on your radar?

GR: Yeah. Our generation is facing so many problems that we’ve never seen before. But then at the same time we’re facing old problems that still exist. Like, we’re sitting here in the middle of a new global pandemic, and we’re also like still facing human-rights issues. There are problems that we did not create but that we now have to solve, like climate change and cyberbullying with the introduction of technology.
I think more than anything right now, we just need to find that one thing we’re passionate about and solve it. Even if it’s something as small as, I want to find an easy way to pick up litter. Everything makes a difference. Don’t feel pressured to come up with something big.
Most of my work with the bio-contaminants is based on a gene-based therapy solution which I’m still trying to figure out. I’m also working on a product that helps to diagnose prescription-opioid addiction at an early stage based on protein production of the mu opioid receptor gene. I’ve been really, really interested in genetics. That’s what I like, so that’s what I’m deciding to work on.

AJ: You know, one of the things you pointed out which is so important is that there is so much, you can get overwhelmed. When I started working in refugee camps, there are so many different issues to deal with within a displaced situation. You get overwhelmed, and you don’t really move. I love what you’re saying: find what you’re passionate about, and don’t try to solve everything. Every solution is a part of the bigger picture of what we have to do. I really hear that and appreciate you saying that.
Where do you get your news or do your research?

GR: My pop-culture news is actually MIT Tech Review. 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. And I try to connect it back to what I see out there and put it together in a way that no one’s seen before.

AJ: When you’re not doing all of these amazing things—because I feel like I’m speaking to a 60-year-old scientist in Geneva—what do you do that’s just a 15-year-old thing?

GR: 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. And, like, it’s science too.

AJ: So the science of the kitchen is not your specialty?

GR: I guess not, no. To be fair, most of the time we don’t have eggs at home, or like flour, so I have to like go online and search eggless, flourless, sugarless cookies, and then I try to make that. I made bread recently and it was good, so I’m proud of myself.

AJ: Well, I’m just so happy to get to know you a little bit. I’m sure I’ll be using your inventions in years to come and just being in awe of you as I watch you do more and more in your life, and I can say, “I met her once.”

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https://time.com/5916772/kid-of-the-year-2020/
 
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achhu

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Yes, All our talent gets sucked by the west and hope she does something for India.
we should be thankful to Europe , america , Australia, south america , they love indian talents . they love us because we don't involve us in extreme religious behaviour .
 
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we should be thankful to Europe , america , Australia, south america , they love indian talents . they love us because we don't involve us in extreme religious behaviour .
Such behaviour is only found in countries having very low literacy rate and where people are more exposed to religious indoctrination.
 

achhu

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Such behaviour is only found in countries having very low literacy rate and where people are more exposed to religious indoctrination.
yes you are right , only jahil nations involve in extremism . Europe is burning example of such nations .
 

jamahir

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we should be thankful to Europe , america , Australia, south america , they love indian talents . they love us because we don't involve us in extreme religious behaviour .
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Such behaviour is only found in countries having very low literacy rate and where people are more exposed to religious indoctrination.
So-called education system in India hasn't helped eliminate religious extremism in 73 years of Independence. Rather, becoming literate, and not actually educated, has helped use of social media platforms to disseminate regressive and unjust opinions and acts. The outcome is varied. Farmer and student suicide, honor killing, dowry deaths, hunger deaths, religious-rioting, the Kashmir issue still not resolved etc etc
 
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So-called education system in India hasn't helped eliminate religious extremism in 73 years of Independence. Rather, becoming literate, and not actually educated, has helped use of social media platforms to disseminate regressive and unjust opinions and acts. The outcome is varied. Farmer and student suicide, honor killing, dowry deaths, hunger deaths, religious-rioting, the Kashmir issue still not resolved etc etc
See I have pictures of Muslims lynching Hindus in India and that too many such pics which I don’t want to share you can google them themselves. Yes Crime is an issue but associating it with only Muslims being victims is wrong, you know that both Hindus and Muslims are killing each other for no reason and this needs to end.
 

Daghalodi

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See I have pictures of Muslims lynching Hindus in India and that too many such pics which I don’t want to share you can google them themselves. Yes Crime is an issue but associating it with only Muslims being victims is wrong, you know that both Hindus and Muslims are killing each other for no reason and this needs to end.
Doesnt matter if you have pics of muslims lynching Hindus. The Irony is you were boasting about a certain extremism in other countries but when the mirror is showed to you, your damage control mode turns this into a hindu/muslims thing. This proves your country is epitome of Extremism and illitreacy.
 

jamahir

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See I have pictures of Muslims lynching Hindus in India and that too many such pics which I don’t want to share you can google them themselves.
For immediate recall, one Muslim-on-NonMuslim crime I have read was some years ago when three Muslim shopkeepers in Pune beat up a Dalit man on the accusation that he had committed a ( petty ) theft.

But you should share your photos or links to photos of Muslims lynching others.

Yes Crime is an issue but associating it with only Muslims being victims is wrong, you know that both Hindus and Muslims are killing each other for no reason and this needs to end.
I agree. :tup:
 
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Doesnt matter if you have pics of muslims lynching Hindus. The Irony is you were boasting about a certain extremism in other countries but when the mirror is showed to you, your damage control mode turns this into a hindu/muslims thing.
Damage control? Are Muslims very peaceful that they never do such things? Your people go abroad and stab many to death and their Parents fell proud of it. Which country is Crime free? Plus India is a diverse country hence it becomes more complicated.
 

Daghalodi

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Damage control? Are Muslims very peaceful that they never do such things? Your people go abroad and stab many to death and their Parents fell proud of it. Which country is Crime free? Plus India is a diverse country hence it becomes more complicated.
Yes Damage Control. Why else would you twist this into a religious affair?? I mean seriously you people should be the last to lecture anyone about extremism and illitrecy where caste system, love jehad, ghar wapsi, killing of ST/SC and adhiwasis, lynching people who eat beef , killing people who transport beef like pogroms are common.

I mean even the farmers who are protesting for their rights have been twisted into a religious affair by calling them khalistanis.

Hypcrisy has No Limit for Indians.
 

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