Who is TIME’s First Kid of the Year? Get to Know Gitanjali Rao

Who is TIME's First Kid of the Year? Find out in this inspiring interview! 

Who says you have to be an adult to be a scientist? Definitely not this 15-year-old who is taking the world by storm! Orlando Science Center got the chance to chat with Gitanjali Rao.

Gitanjali Rao is a 15-year-old Indian American inventor, author, scientist, S.T.E.M. promoter, and engineer. She is working to solve some of the world’s messiest problems by inventing solutions - like a device that detects lead in drinking water, an app to help prevent cyberbullying, and more!

You've probably heard of TIME's Person of the Year, but for the first time ever, a kid was also chosen. Who is TIME's first Kid of the year? You guessed it, Gitanjali Rao! She was TIME Magazine’s first Kid of the Year, as pictured on the cover of the magazine. She was interviewed by Angelina Jolie and was chosen from more than 5,000 US nominees for the prestigious title of TIME’s Kid of the Year. "If I can do it, you can do it, and anyone can do it," she said.

While she is working to shape and save the future of our world, she has also written a new book entitled A Young Innovators Guide to S.T.E.M. Grab a copy and share it with your favorite aspiring scientist to help unlock their innovator within.

The Orlando Science Center had the pleasure of discussing some topics with Gitanjali. During our conversation, she explains that no matter your age or where you live, anyone can be a S.T.E.M. professional if they are passionate enough. We also had Gitanjali help us celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, by telling us what heritage means to her.

...heritage is a unique and inherited sense of one's identity, passed down from generations. This is what makes us who we are.

Gitanjali Rao

Gitanjali also highlights “values, traditions, culture, art, and cooking styles” which help us stay in touch with our heritage. She ends by telling us that she is proud of who she is, and her heritage. She believes everyone should be, too, because that is what makes us... us

Thanks Gitanjali Rao for helping OSC inspire science learning for life, no matter who we are, where we come from, and no matter our age. And a huge thanks for helping us celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. How will you be celebrating this heritage month? Try taking some time to find out what you can do for the community.

High School Students’ COVID-19 Projects Take Top Prizes at Ying Science Competition!

Pandemic Inspires High School Students COVID-19 projects to Develop Better Face Coverings and Filtration Systems!

Since 1999, Dr. Nelson Ying — local scientist, entrepreneur and philanthropist — has partnered with Orlando Science Center to celebrate outstanding science students through his sponsorship of the Ying Student Science Competition. Among the four finalists this year, two projects inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic so impressed the judges that both students— Annika Vaidyanathan and Ishika Nag — were named Grand Prize Winners during a virtual ceremony this past weekend.

The awards were presented by Ying’s son, Nelson Ying, Jr. and Fred Curtis, co-founder of the competition and longtime Orlando Science Center volunteer and donor. Annika Vaidyanathan and Ishika Nag receive a $5,000 scholarship, a $1,000 award for their science teacher or mentor, and an additional $1,000 for their school. The remaining finalists also received cash prizes to help fund their continued research. To compete in the Dr. Ying Science Competition, each entrant must be a Central Florida high school student and pursue a research project that has the ultimate goal of benefiting humanity. Finalists presented their findings during video meetings with a judges’ panel of educators, engineers and scientists. This is the second year that the competition has been held virtually instead of in person due to the pandemic.


COVID-19 influenced both high school students Annika Vaidyanathan and Ishika Nag's winning projects.

Annika, a junior at Winter Springs High School, wanted to increase the effectiveness of face masks to help slow the spread of the virus. She developed and tested a coating that would cause COVID-19 virus-sized nanoparticles to bead and roll right off a face mask, creating greater protection for the wearer. She also looked at ways to manufacture this coating safely and cost-effectively. 

Annika Vaidyanathan - One of the Central Florida Teens Change the World


Meanwhile, Ishika, a sophomore at Oviedo High School, was focused on improving the efficiency and affordability of air filtration devices, like both masks and HVAC filters, by coating them with nanoparticles. Ishika’s research showed that this coating improved a mask’s air pollution and virus filtration efficiency while ensuring its safety for human use. She was originally inspired to pursue this multi-year project after visiting a friend who had moved to New Delhi.

She saw firsthand how much her friend’s life had been impacted due to the change in air quality. The global pandemic then convinced this Central Florida teen to create a low-cost, high-quality filtration device that could protect people from both pollution and airborne viruses, not only locally but around the world.

Ishika Nag


The competition also awarded the remaining two finalists cash prizes to further their research. Nikhil Iyer, a junior at Edgewood Junior/Senior High School in Merritt Island, won $1,000 for his research on improving machine learning by modeling artificial neural networks after the human brain using virtual neurotransmitters.

NIKHIL IYER - One of the Central Florida Teens Change the World


Gustavo Toledo, a senior at Edgewood, won $500 for his research to improve the hydrodynamic efficiency of autonomous underwater vehicles by testing torpedo models with various golf ball-sized surface textures. Nikhil’s project could increase the efficiency of artificial intelligence while Gustavo’s project could enable underwater research vehicles to go further and collect more data over a longer period of time.

Gustavo Toledo

Dr. Nelson Ying is a longtime supporter of Orlando Science Center. After sponsoring numerous exhibits and serving on the Science Center’s board of trustees, he decided to invest the long term impact of our mission to inspire science learning for life. He and Curtis launched the Dr. Ying Science Competition in 1999 to encourage exemplary science students to use their knowledge and skills to address real-world problems.

Dr. Ying’s son, Nelson Jr., now oversees the competition with Ying and Curtis in collaboration with Orlando Science Center. They hope to inspire young people to become good role models and successful world-changers by leveraging their passion for science. Past winners of the Dr. Ying Science Competition have gone onto prestigious universities, such as MIT and Johns Hopkins, and fascinating STEM careers, including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.


Dr. Morgan Cable — Her Story From Science Fairs to Saturn

Dr. Morgan Cable credits her successful career to early exposure to science.

Dr. Morgan Cable, the first-ever grand prize winner of the Dr. Nelson Ying Science Competition in 1999, has camped atop Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, conducted research in the Atacama Desert in Chile, and has run multiple summer space camps in South Korea. Now, a Research Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, Morgan focuses on asking questions about possible life in space.


She has worked on multiple projects like the Cassini Mission, which explored the Saturn system for more than 10 years, and as a collaborator on an instrument that will go on NASA’s next mission to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. Her life story is full of scientific discovery and adventure, which is why she was one of the speakers at Orlando Science Center’s 2018 Galaxy Gala.


D. Morgan Cable was exposed to science at the earliest of ages. Growing up on the Space Coast in Titusville, she recalls “that undoubtedly had an effect on my upbringing, I was able to see numerous rocket launches just from my window!” Her father, a chemist at Kennedy Space Center — and Morgan’s biggest inspiration — always encouraged her to ask questions, and in doing so opened her to a world of exploration. She also credits frequent visits to Orlando Science Center to sparking an interest in science. “I liked that I could play and have fun, but I was also learning something.”


As an 8th grade student, she entered the first Dr. Nelson Ying Science Competition with the goal of helping humanity through scientific research. Young Morgan conducted a science project about whether or not she could grow a certain type of bacteria in a Martian environment. She was awarded the grand prize for her efforts.


Morgan heavily credits science competitions and organizations like Orlando Science Center for furthering her interest and passion in STEM learning. She recalls her ‘a-ha’ moment when realizing “wow, there are still so many
questions to be answered, and I could do this for a living!”


According to Morgan, exposing children to science at a young age is the most important thing parents, schools, and institutions can be doing.


“Science can be intimidating if you experience it later in life, if you’re shown it over and over again in a comfortable and fun setting, it becomes so much more approachable for all children. There is a really big mental hurdle in this field of thinking you’re not smart enough or not capable, but I’m here to tell you YES you are!” – Dr. Morgan Cable


Her message for anyone beginning to pursue a career in STEM is this: “No one knows your true potential except you. I have met scientists and engineers for NASA that used to be musicians and then one day decided they wanted to be a scientist and went for it. There is no right way to go about it. As long as you’re passionate about it – do it.”

Prestigious Dr. Nelson Ying Science Competition Names 2020 Teen Finalists

Prestigious Science Competition Moves Judging Online for Teens to Present their Groundbreaking Research Projects 

Since 1999, Dr. Nelson Ying — a scientist, entrepreneur and philanthropist — has partnered with Orlando Science Center to celebrate the exemplary research of visionary high school science students through an annual science competition in his name.


Every year during the Dr. Nelson Ying Science Competition, five students from across Central Florida are selected to present their groundbreaking scientific research to a prestigious Judges panel. One winner is selected to receive a cash scholarship as well as cash prizes for their teacher and their school.


This year, finalists were scheduled to present their research on Saturday, April 18 at Orlando Science Center with an awards ceremony planned for Sunday, April 19 at Dubsdread Country Club in nearby College Park. Unfortunately, Orlando Science Center has been closed to the public as a public health precaution since March 16. Instead of cancelling this event, Dr. Ying and Orlando Science Center decided to move the competition online.


Dr. Ying and Orlando Science Center didn’t want a global pandemic to stop this competition, which has been a tradition for over two decades. Finalists will now present to the judges via Zoom on Saturday and then attend a virtual awards ceremony on Sunday.


To compete in the Dr. Nelson Ying Science Competition, each entrant must perform a research project that has the ultimate goal of benefiting humanity. Projects are presented to a judges’ panel, consisting of retired engineers, scientists, educators, and Dr. Ying himself.


The finalists for the 2020 Dr. Nelson Ying Science Competition are as follows:

  • Kyle Bramblett, Titusville High School, for trying to see if an artificial structure could have significant effects on oyster growth, increasing oyster spats, and improving water quality.
  • Nathan Foo, West Shore Junior/Senior High School, for testing to see if mechanically simulated kangaroo care is an efficient and feasible method for treating preterm babies.
  • Ian Henriques, Seminole High School, for devising a simple, adaptive model for controlling drones for service during natural disasters in a way that conserves fuel and avoids collisions.
  • Varsha Naga, Winter Springs High School, developing a technique to reduce the risk of infectious deaths in patients with central venous catheters.
  • Pranav Swaminathan, Spruce Creek High School, for designing a low cost and practical device for motorcycles that can be used to reduce emissions.


Please check back on Monday, April 20 when we share the winner of the competition. The winner will receive $5,000, $1,000 for their school and $1,000 for their teacher or mentor. Previous winners have gone on to continue their research at top universities, such as MIT and Johns Hopkins and even work for NASA.

Renewable Energy Workshops — OUC Project A.W.E.S.O.M.E Lessons For Your Virtual Classroom

Project AWESOME is a collaboration between Orlando Science Center and OUC that has impacted over 100,000 students in Orange and Osceola counties over the past decade through renewable energy workshops.


These renewable energy workshops are typically delivered directly to the classroom, but since schools are currently closed due to precautions around COVID-19, this effort has shifted online. There will be 7 lessons available in the form of a voiced over PowerPoint. Each lesson will include science content, discussion questions, an activity for students to complete, and a reflection.

In 2009, Orlando Science Center created a STEM-based program on water conservation and alternative energy partnership with OUC - The Reliable One which has reached every 5th grader in OUC's service area. These hands-on renewable energy workshops stimulate STEM skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration through projects that address real-world issues around water conservation and alternative energy.


Project AWESOME stands for Alternative Water and Energy Supply; Observation, Methods and Education. It brings science to life for thousands of students every year through inquiry-based instruction focused on renewable energies and water conservation. Students are immersed in real-world environmental problems that enhance their abilities to think creatively about sustainable solutions for today’s challenges. Additionally, the OUC Project A.W.E.S.O.M.E. includes curriculum content that reinforces concepts taught in-class and helps prepare students for Florida Standardized Assessment testing.


If you are not an educator or are looking for more at-home learning resources, view our resources page here.

Orlando Science Center Brought STEM Learning to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba

Orlando Science Center was recently invited to bring hands-on STEM learning to the thousands of men, woman, and children living on the US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Our mission is to inspire science learning for life and our team is dedicated to creating iconic experiences that spark curiosity and wonder for curious minds of all ages.


Our organization’s Education Outreach Team is providing hands-on learning within and beyond our organization’s walls throughout the year, often traveling throughout the state to facilitate programs at schools and community centers. However, this instance is the first time the team has left the country to provide educational programs.


Orlando Science Center hosted activities for students and families for several days, from June 7-10, including workshops at the base’s school, several family events and one evening exclusively for adults. Activities included a variety of hands-on activities, including engineering challenges, drone demonstrations, telescope viewing, and a mobile planetarium show. Families stationed at Guantanamo Bay are not allowed to leave the base so Orlando Science Center’s team provided welcome entertainment in addition to essential STEM learning.


Outreach is an important part of our organization’s mission because not everyone has access to a science center in their community. As we do our part to help fill the pipeline for future STEM workers, it is important to reach as broad an audience as possible. Young people engaged by hands-on STEM experiences help build important skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, communication and collaboration as well as learn about pathways to exciting careers.


By bringing a little of Orlando Science Center to those who wouldn’t experience it otherwise, our team has helped unlock a universe of possibilities. You never know who you might inspire during a live science show or by teaching someone how to program a robot to accomplish a task. Such experiences can ignite a passion for knowledge that can fuel a lifetime of discovery.


If you'd like to view the photo album from our trip, please click on the photo below: 


Orlando Science Center Brings Activities to Guantanamo Bay