TIME Names First-Ever Kid of the Year

Brilliant 15-year-old Gitanjali Rao wins prestigious award.

Dec 10, 2020
TIME Names First-Ever Kid of the Year | Brilliant 15-year-old Gitanjali Rao wins prestigious award.

TIME announced its first-ever Kid of the Year award on December 4, 2020, awarding the prize to Gitanjali Rao from Colorado. This 15-year-old brilliant scientist has already made this world a better place with her inventions.

The magazine chose five finalists from 5,000 young Americans, aged eight through 16 and Gitanjali was selected as the winner in the top spot. Yet what makes her really shine is a devotion to mentor and create like-minded young innovators all over the world.

TIME began this annual tradition in 1929, when editors selected the first Man of the Year for a special December issue. In 1999, this was renamed Person of the Year, and now, TIME has added Kid of the Year to its roster of influential picks.

Gitanjali is breaking many barriers as she is a girl, a well-respected scientist, and still a teenager. Well-rounded for such a young age, she describes herself on twitter as a “student, fencer, author, speaker, community volunteer, science enthusiast, STEM promoter and board member.” She is also an accomplished pianist and loves to bake.

Gitanjali spoke to Angelina Jolie about her inspiration and vision in a Zoom conversation for TIME magazine. She explained that she began her first invention when she set out to find an easy way for people to detect contaminants in water when she was only 10. And she succeeded, naming her invention after “Tethys” after the Greek river goddess. She won “America’s top young scientist” for this innovation.

Gitanjali’s vision goes beyond traditional science as she is committed to using technology to help others grow and develop forward thinking. With this mindset, she went on to develop an app called Kindly which detects cyberbullying. With this app, if a teen writes a “bullying” word, they receive a prompt asking them if they really wanted to say this to someone. She is giving teens the opportunity to reflect on their choices.

Gitanjali has a generous spirit and wants to share her spark for innovation with other young scientists. That’s why she started giving innovation workshops complete with lesson plans. She partners with schools and museums, offering participants the opportunity to focus on a goal, and then run with it. She has since hit a personal target of mentoring 30,000 young innovators

To ensure her vision gets around, she recently published a book on the subject entitled A Young Inventor’s Guide to STEM. But, this is just the beginning! Fascinated by genetics, Gitanjali  is using receptor genes to design a product that can diagnose a prescription-based opioid addiction.

Gitanjali told Jolie, “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.”

The Kid of the Year ceremony was specially broadcast on Nickelodeon TV, a children’s network, reaching many young people. Gitanjali can hopefully inspire girls who may shy away from science. As she opens each young mind to the wondrous fields of science and technology, the world gets one step closer to becoming a better place.

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Nicole is an editor, blogger and author who has recently left her urban life in order to be more connected with nature. In her spare time, she’s outdoors hiking in the forest, mountain biking or tending to her new permaculture garden.