When Rao was 12, she was part of a team of students that won a Junior Scientist Award in the 2018 Genes in Space competition. The Genes in Space program, founded by Boeing and miniPCR BioTM and supported through the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory, has held a nationwide student research challenge since 2015. Students in grades 7 through 12 are invited to design pioneering DNA experiments that use the unique environment of the ISS. The winning proposals are developed into flight experiments that are launched to the ISS and carried out by the crew members onboard.
For the Genes in Space competition, Rao and her team designed an experiment to study the genetics of plant growth regulation in microgravity. Although their investigation was not selected to fly to the ISS, Rao and her team did receive a Junior Scientist Award in recognition of being one of the top five outstanding proposals submitted from middle school teams.
In her photo on the cover of TIME, Rao is wearing a lab coat with the emblem of STEM Scouts, a national pilot program from the Boy Scouts of America focused on fun ways for girls and boys in grades 3-12 to learn more about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects. STEM Scouts is one of a growing number of Space Station Explorers partner organizations whose innovative programs bring new excitement to STEM education.
After being named TIME Kid of the Year, Rao said in an interview, “If I can do it, anybody can do it!” And she’s absolutely right! Through programs like Genes in Space, kids are inspired to dream big and strive for endless possibilities. We congratulate Rao on her landmark award and are excited to watch where her journey takes her. We hope to see more kids inspired to reach for the stars!