Young scientist uses technology as a catalyst for social change

Inventor, scientist, Time Magazine Kid of the year 2020, Gitanjali Rao © Gitanjali RaoFor Gitanjali Rao, her technological and scientific innovation go hand in hand with social responsibility.

“The motivation for my ideas come from a lot of different places, but I think the biggest motivating factor is the community around me, right, seeing problems on the news and with people and forming a personal connection with them and wanting to solve it,” she said.

Her use of social challenges as a catalyst for technological innovation has seen her create an app to detect and prevent cyberbullying and another to diagnose opiate addiction. When she was eight years old, she learned about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan USA, where a community was suffering from drinking water with high levels of lead. It led to her first invention – a device that could detect lead in drinking water.

“I couldn't accept the fact that there was a city in my country where thousands of kids my age were drinking a poison every single day,” the 15-year-old said. “So I was looking at a way to help detect leaded drinking water because I realize that the lack of knowledge of contamination is the bigger problem.”

Gitanjali’s astonishing work using technology to tackle a range of issues led to her being selected as Time Magazine’s first ever Kid of the Year in 2020. It also led her to be one of the key participants in the recent Youth Activists Summit which took place in Geneva in November.

Problem solving runs in the blood

“In my mom and my dad are both in business and IT, so most of the time, they don't know what's going on in my head, but I think it's what really does run in the blood is innovation and problem solving,” Gitanjali said. “And that's really what I've continued to carry on just with my own passion of science and tech.”

Solving problems is at the heart of her passion. She is currently working on a way to detect parasites in drinking water to help people in Third World locations. Gitanjali has a methodology, that she thinks can be useful for young people globally to help them look into solving problems at their own levels. Her mission is to create a global community of young innovators to solve problems the world over.

“The biggest thing about problem solving is it should work with the skill sets that a student has,” she said. “And I think that's when newer methodologies are growing with and that's what students are realizing as well. Another great thing that every student can do and everyone can learn to do is be open to change.”

Equality = education for all

Education is the key to combat inequality, Gitanjali said.

“I think equality can mean a lot of different things, but I think the biggest one is providing the same opportunities and education to girls and boys, regardless of their age, their race or the colour of their skin,” she said.

She sees her work as a scientist and inventor as a way to both promote equality and stand up for human rights by shattering stereotypes.

“I think when it comes to science and human rights, science and innovation by itself is a male dominated field,” she said. “I'm really trying to break that stereotype, and I feel like all of that draws back to human rights. It’s recognizing that science and innovation isn't just for someone who looks a certain way, it's for everyone. It kind of speaks for itself: being 15 years old, South Asian and a girl, I'm breaking every stereotype in the field that science could ever think of.”

This story is part of a series to celebrate Human Rights Day 2021, under the theme "Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights." Join us to help spread the word that we're all human, and all equal. Find out more

11 December 2021

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