Gitanjali Rao is an Indian-American child prodigy, inventor, author, scientist, and STEM promoter. She won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge in 2017, and was recognized on Forbes 30 Under 30 for her innovations. Rao was named TIME Top young innovator in 2020 for her innovations and "innovation workshops" she conducts across the globe and, on December 4, 2020 was featured on the cover of TIME magazine and named "Kid of the Year".
Gitanjali’s parents are of Indian origin and come from an academic background, and have always supported their daughter’s quest to learn new things. She currently lives in Lone Tree, Colorado where she attends STEM School Highlands Ranch. Rao has expressed interest in studying genetics and epidemiology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has spoken up about the gender pay gap.
When she was 10, Rao heard about the Flint water crisis while watching the news and became interested in ways to measure the lead content in water. This led to her developing a device called Tethys based on carbon nanotubes that could send water quality information via Bluetooth. Rao collaborated with a research scientist at 3M.
In 2017, Rao won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge and was awarded $25,000 for her invention, Tethys. Tethys contains a 9-volt battery, a lead sensing unit, a bluetooth extension and a processor. It uses carbon nanotubes, whose resistance changes in the presence of lead. She learned about the carbon nanotubes while reading the Massachusetts Institute of Technology website. She plans to work with scientists and medical professionals to investigate the potential of Tethys as a viable method. She presented her idea at the 2018 MAKERS conference and raised a further $25,000. As of January 2019, she was working with the Denver water facility and hopes to have a prototype in the next two years.
She is a 3-time TEDx Speaker. In September 2018 Rao was awarded the United States Environmental Protection Agency President’s Environmental Youth Award.
Rao was also awarded the Top “Health” Pillar Prize for the TCS Ignite Innovation Student Challenge in May 2019 for developing a diagnostic tool called Epione based on advances in genetic engineering for early diagnosis of prescription opioid addiction.
Rao developed an app that uses artificial intelligence that can detect cyberbullying at an early stage.
She is also an accomplished pianist. According to her mother, when Rao was three years old, she asked what she could do to help someone who was sick; playing music was suggested.
She is currently a member of Scouts and has enrolled in the Scouting STEM program in the United States, and is working on getting her pilot's license.
Rao is the first person to receive TIME magazine's Kid of the Year designation.