Meet TIME’s First-Ever Kid of the Year

Gitanjali Rao, a Colorado teenager who invented a mobile device to test for lead in drinking water, is Time’s Kid of the Year for 2020. The magazine announced the award Thursday, citing Rao’s ability to apply scientific ideas to real-world problems — and her desire to motivate other kids to take up their own causes.

It’s just the latest recognition for Rao, 15, who was named last year to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. She won praise in 2017 after she responded to the Flint, Mich., water crisis by creating a device named Tehys, using carbon nanotube sensors to detect lead in water. The Lone Tree, Colo., native was named America’s Top Young Scientist when she was in the seventh grade. She went on to collaborate with scientists in the water industry to try to get the device on the market. She is the first ever TIME’s Kid of the Year 2020.

More recently, Rao has developed a phone and Web tool named Kindly, which uses artificial intelligence technology to detect possible early signs of cyberbullying.

“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.”

Five Kid of the Year finalists

Tyler Gordon, 14

San Jose, Calif.

High school freshman Tyler Gordon has faced more challenges than some people experience in a lifetime. He used a wheelchair for nearly two years after breaking bones in his legs and hips because of a vitamin D deficiency. He was born deaf and underwent a surgery at age 5 that gave him some hearing, but he still speaks with a stutter. In elementary school, he got bullied so much that he barely spoke.

Jordan Reeves, 14

Columbia, Mo.

For Jordan Reeves, having a limb difference has helped her envision a more accessible world. The 14-year-old designer and activist was born with a left arm that stopped growing beneath her elbow, a physical difference that helped ignite her passion for design. In the past four years, Reeves has created a 3-D-printable prosthesis for kids that shoots out biodegradable sparkles, consulted for companies like Mattel to create toys that affirm limb difference and even co-written a memoir about what she’s learned from growing up with a disability.

Bellen Woodard, 10

Leesburg, Va.

Bellen Woodard is only 10 years old, but she’s on a mission for inclusion. She has created her own line of crayons in tones that reflect the wide spectrum of skin colors she sees in the world, claiming the title of world’s first crayon activist.

Ian McKenna, 16

Austin, Texas

Ian McKenna was in third grade when he learned that nearly a quarter of the kids at his Austin school weren’t getting enough to eat at home. He wanted to help, but local volunteer organizations turned him away, saying he was too young. So he decided to find his own solution. For years, he had been gardening with his mother, and they often distributed their extra vegetables to the neighbors. Why not give the produce to a soup kitchen? “Then I thought, I’m good at gardening,” says McKenna, now 16. “Maybe I could try to start a garden that’s meant solely to help feed these people who are in need.” Better yet, he thought, why not plant a garden at school, so that kids in need could take food home?

Last Updated: 04-Dec-2020
Source: TIME’s magazine

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