Gitanjali Rao studies at STEM School Highlands Ranch, Colorado. She is a scientist and engineer, inventor, author, and promoter of STEM globally. She won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge in 2017 and was honoured as one of Forbes “30 Under 30 in Science” for her innovations. She was named Time's “Top Young Innovator” of 2020 and, on December 4 2020, was featured on the cover of Time magazine and named its first "Kid of the Year". On November 18, 2021, she was awarded as a Laureate of the Young Activists Summit at UN Geneva. Gitanjali has also been awarded the United States Environmental Protection Agency President's Environmental Youth Award.
Gitanjali’s many awards stem from her innovative prowess. When she was just 10 years old, Gitanjali heard about the Flint water crisis while watching the news and, through collaboration with a research scientist at 3M, by seventh grade had developed her first innovation, a device called Tethys. Tethys detects lead in water using carbon nanotubes and can send water quality information to mobile devices via Bluetooth. For Tethys, Gitanjali won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge and was awarded $25,000 for her invention, and she has since worked on a prototype for this invention in collaboration with the Denver Water Facility.
Gitanjali has also turned her attention to addressing the growing threat of cyber-bullying. She created an internet service called “Kindly” that helps detect and prevent cyberbullying, especially in schools, using the latest developments in Artificial Intelligence technology. She has partnered with UNICEF to launch Kindly globally.
She 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.
Aside from her inventions, Gitanjali is passionate about spreading STEM awareness and inspiring innovation and has to date given over 200 speeches globally in TED talks, conferences and schools in places such as rural United States, Western Africa, the Middle East, Asia, South America, Europe, Canada, and Australia.
In addition to speeches, Gitanjali conducts innovation workshops for K-12 students who have the passion to build ideas and create novel solutions but may not have the resources, guidance, and motivation to turn their dreams into reality. To date, she has conducted innovation workshops for over 60,000 students and 15,000 educators in 40 countries across the world.
Using her own experience developing several ideas into products, she has codified the innovation process into five steps, authoring the best-selling book “Young Innovator’s Guide to STEM”, which is available in five languages across the world. Sections of the book are now adopted as a formal STEM Curriculum in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Northern Kenya, and in seven high schools in Ghana. Japan's Kyushu region is also considering adoption of the Japanese version as their textbook.
Gitanjali is also a passionate mentor, guiding students in refugee camps in northern Kenya, Cambodia, and rural US, aiming to prepare them to participate in science challenges.
At just 16 years of age, Gitanjali has already completed internships at the Colorado Department of Law within its Opioid Response Unit, Lockheed Martin, the University of Colorado in its Cell and Development Biology Lab as well as the Denver Water Research Lab. She is a four-time TEDx and TED speaker, and has appeared in multiple global media outlets for her inventions.