“Observe, think, research, build and communicate.” During the interval of online class at home, Gitángali Rao described her scientific research process through the video call software Zoom. She also introduced her work using technology to solve problems such as drinking water pollution, opioid addiction and Internet bullying, and her mission-to create a global community of young innovators to solve those worldwide Common issues within. She encourages young people today: “Don’t try to solve all problems, just focus on the ones that excite you. If even me can do it, anyone else can do it.”
When did you realize that science is your passion?
I don’t think there is a real specific moment that makes me suddenly realize, “Aha, I like science!” For a long time, I hope everyone can throw away their worries, smile, and think about how to infuse the place where we live. positive energy. When I was in the second and third grades of elementary school, I began to think about how to use technology to change society. At the time, I was about ten years old and told my parents that I wanted to study carbon nanotube sensor technology in the Denver Water Quality Research Laboratory. (Editor’s note: Carbon nanotube sensors are very sensitive to chemical changes and are very suitable for detecting chemicals in water.) This makes them feel incredible, my mother even asked me: “What the hell is this?” And what I thought was, this This work will definitely be done soon by our generation. If no one wants to do it, then I will do it.
I like your idea. What our generation has to do is to minimize all kinds of damage, so that the next generation of you can be ahead of the times. I know that one of your recent innovations helps prevent cyberbullying. Can you tell us about it?
This is a service called Kindly-including a mobile phone application and a browser extension. It is equipped with artificial intelligence technology to detect cyberbullying in advance. I hard-coded some words that might be considered bullying, and let search engines retrieve these words and identify similar languages. When you enter a word or phrase, it can recognize whether it belongs to the cyberbullying category, and will give you different options for you to choose-whether to re-edit the content you want to send or continue. But the purpose of this is not to punish, but to make you rethink what you should say and do.
As you said, letting technology become a tool to remind people and promote their growth is a very novel and unique idea. Although you are young, you are very forward-looking and a female inventor. How did you do it? I am surprised, because in the field of technology, women are rarely seen.
I don’t look like a scientist in the traditional sense. The scientists I saw on TV were all older, and they were usually white men. This makes me feel weird, as if people were assigned social roles according to gender, age, and skin color early on. So this is what I want to change. Not only do I want to work out strategies to solve global problems, but I also want to inspire others to do the same. Being a pioneer is always difficult, so I still want to tell you sincerely that if I can do it, you can do it, and anyone can do it.
I know that you will regularly hold “innovation seminars”, let’s talk about this aspect!
The original intention of holding the innovation seminar was to share with you the novel and useful things I found. At the beginning, it was just simple manuscripts and course demonstrations, and later scientific experiments and competition content were gradually added. Now, I work with some rural schools, girls in science and engineering organizations, and large organizations such as the International Youth Science and Technology Association and the Royal Academy of Engineering in London to hold innovation seminars. In my opinion, the students attending the conference just don’t know where to start. They only need to dial a little bit and walk firmly to change everything. At the end of each seminar, almost everyone has something to start researching, which is very efficient! For example, I will receive an email like this: “Hey, I participated in your seminar four months ago. This is my finished product. A shoe that can only call 911.” Every time I receive such an email, Will make me very excited.
You are smart and you are willing to share your personal thoughts with everyone. So, what are you researching recently?
Rao collaborated with Dr. Selena Hernandez-Ruiz of Denver Water to develop a prototype of the lead detection device.
I am working on a simple method to detect biological contaminants (such as parasites) in the water. I hope this method is cheap and accurate so that people in third world countries can use it. I also recently reached the goal of mentoring 30,000 students in total. I hope to create a global community of young innovators. I sincerely hope that the work done by these students will make innovation a necessity.
The “Tethys” device developed by Rao can more effectively detect the lead content in water.
Your generation is very different. You no longer accept all the existing ideas, but dare to question them. This is very valuable. I found that you have done a lot of work in solving water pollution. Environmental issues should be a problem that you are very concerned about, right?
Indeed, our generation is facing many unprecedented problems. But at the same time, there are also many old problems. For example, we are now at the center of a global epidemic, and there are also human rights issues. Some problems are not caused by us, such as climate change and cyber bullying brought about by technology, but we must solve them now. In fact, there is no need to make our research field too ambitious. We only need to find the thing that we are passionate about and good at, even if it is as small as a simple method of picking up garbage. Because everything has its own meaning, don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
Most of my research on biological pollutants is based on gene therapy solutions, and efforts are currently being made in this area. I’m still working on a product that will help in the early diagnosis of opioid addiction. I have always been interested in genetics, so I decided to start research in this area.
I really appreciate what you said before “find what you are passionate about, don’t try to solve all problems. Every solution is part of the larger framework we want to build”. Where do you usually get news or research directions?
I often read “MIT Technology Review”. This is my source of inspiration. It allows me to get to know the outstanding talents of MIT and Harvard University. They have done a lot of great work in technology. I will try to connect these jobs with the things I have come into contact with, and combine them in an unprecedented way.
When you don’t do these amazing things—because I feel like I’m talking to a 60-year-old scientist, what do you do that matches your 15-year-old age?
In fact, during the isolation period, I spent more time doing what a 15-year-old teenager should do. I have done a lot of baking, but the taste is not good and it is a little stale, but this is also science.
So, science in the kitchen is not your specialty?
Introduce his newly invented Rao in the 3M Young Scientist Challenge
In 2017, the 11-year-old Rao won the 3M Young Scientist Challenge with his “Tethys” device.
No, I think it is. In all fairness, most of the time our house does not have eggs or flour, so I have to search online for how to make cookies without eggs, flour and sugar, and then try to make them. I recently baked bread and it tasted good. I am proud of myself.
I am glad to have some understanding of you. I believe that in the future, I will definitely use your invention, and your research results will be more and more. At that time, I will proudly say to others: “I have seen her before.”