The title recognizing extraordinary young people actively working to make a positive impact in their communities. And Rao is just 15-years-old.
The kiddo is already an inventor and scientist whose goal is to improve the lives as well as health of everyone. Her next goal? To solve some of the world’s biggest problems while also inspiring other young innovators to do the same.
“I don’t look like your typical scientist,” Rao told Angelina Jolie in an interview for TIME’s Kid of The Year issue. “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.”
It was the precise lack of diversity as well as representation that Rao witnessed in science that inspired the teen, who now lives in Colorado, to take on a new project. “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,” Rao told Jolie. “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 that anybody can do it. If I can do it, you can do it, and anyone can do it.
Over the past few. years, Rao has used science as well as technology to tackle everything from water contamination, opioid addiction, and cyberbullying.
She informed Jolie how she has been thinking about how science and technology can be used to create social change since she was in the second or third grade. Naturally.
After learning about the 2014 water crisis in Flint, Michigan, while also watching her own mother resort to sending samples of their water to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after at-home test strips proved faulty — Rao, then 11, was inspired to invent Tethys.
The device uses carbon nanotubes to detect lead in drinking water. Rao won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge in 2017, making national news. Marvel even modeled a superhero after Rao for its Marvel’s Hero Project.
And since inventing Tethys (which Rao hopes to integrate into homes and schools) Rao has also developed Epione, which is a device capable of detecting opioid use disorder by testing protein in body fluids.
And Kindly, an app as well as a browser extension that uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing to detect and prevent cyberbullying.
Rao and TIME’s other top 2020 Kid of The Year finalists as well as honorees were recognized last week in the first-ever Kid of The Year TV special.
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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