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Gitanjali Rao

Scientist and Time Magazine’s Kid of the Year

Who is Gitanjali Rao? 

Observation. Brainstorm. Research. Build. Communicate. These are the four pillars of growth that scientist Gitanjali Rao told actress and activist Angelina Jolie that she uses in her process. At only fifteenth, Rao became TIME’s first ever Kid of the Year. From 5,000 nominees, she made her mark on the selection committee by tackling issues from contaminated drinking water to cyberbullying to creating a global community of young innovators. The message she wanted to share the most? “If I can do it,” she said, “anybody can do it.”  

Before she was TIME’s Kid of the Year, Gitanjali was a seventh grader from Colorado. Even then, she was awarded the “America’s Top Young Scientist” title. Rao had designed a compact device to detect lead in drinking water, something she thought could be cheaper and faster than other methods.  “After I learned about Flint,” said Rao, “I continued to research and follow it for the next couple years. Then, I saw my parents testing for lead in our water and that is pretty much what sparked the idea. I realized that using test strips would take quite a few tries to get accurate results and I wanted to do something to change this, not only for my parents but for the residents of Flint and places like Flint around the world.” 

Since lead does not affect the taste or small of water, the only way to detect it is with a test. There are currently only two main ways to do it — lab testing and home testing. Unfortunately, not everyone has direct access to a lab! Furthermore, home testing strips can be expensive and even inaccurate. “My prototype costs just over $20 to make, but all the material was custom-manufactured. At bulk, I expect the production cost to be significantly less than that.” 

She’s calling it “Tethys” — the Greek Titan goddess of fresh water. “I hope to make it commercially available in the next year so that it’s in everybody’s hands,” she says. 

But Roa’s most important qualities aren’t her testing prototype or her phenomenal naming skills. She has a very clear love for science and helping others. “If you do not succeed the first time, that’s okay! There is never a limit to the number of tries it takes to accomplish a goal.” That’s why in the future, Rao is looking to become a geneticist or an epidemiologist. “I would enjoy working in the field of diseases and someday hopefully find cures for some that cause a lot of pain.”

3 Things We Love About Gitanjali Rao:

  • Rao loves to have fun! She enjoys working with STEM and solving problems. Building things such as the Tethys, is not just a job for her, she is dedicated to revolutionizing the STEM industry and changing peoples’ lives.
  • Before winning the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, Rao was awarded a 3-month mentorship with Kathleen Shafer, a research specialist who develops new plastics technologies.
  • Rao took the stage at the 2018 MAKERS Conference to pitch the Tethys device and provide an update on her next steps. She has partnered with Denver water and raised an additional $25,000 to help with the improvement and next steps of the Tethys.

Work Cited

TIME’s 2020 Kid of the Year: Meet Gitanjali Rao

Gitanjali Rao  

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