Iowa City West High School student Dasia Taylor is creating surgical sutures that change color to let patients know if a wound is infected.
After a year of research, the 17-year-old is working on getting her sutures patented. She envisions these sutures being used in developing countries where they can save lives and money.
Infections could be treated early with antibiotics instead of surgery.
Right now, she plans to continue to do tests on her project for at least the next six months.
Dasia was named among the top 300 scholars this year for her project in the 80th Regeneron Science Talent Search, a science and math competition for high school seniors.
A total of 1,760 students across the United States entered the competition this year, which is produced by Society for Science.
Dasia also could be named as one of 40 finalists who each receive $25,000 and will participate in the final competition in March. The top prize is $250,000.
Dasia’s sutures work by changing color if the patients pH level alters, indicating an infection.
PH is one of the most prevalent parts of wound healing, Dasia said. It changes very quickly, so it’s one of the fastest ways to identify infection.
The most challenging part of her experiment was determining the right material to use for the stitches, a very repetitive process of trial and error, she said.
The second was learning how to work in a sterile environment to test bacteria.
Dasia said she could not have continued to do research without the support of Iowa City West, which provided her with bacteria for testing.
“I had to learn the proper technique of putting on a glove. I had never learned that before,” Dasia said.
Dasia was intrigued by sutures when she received a suture kit for Christmas a few years ago. At the time, she was interested in becoming a surgeon.
This was Dasia’s first science research project outside science class.
When Dasia entered her project into the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium in March 2020, she realized she was the only Black student in the room.
“Being in the room knowing stereotypes were flying and to be able to prove them wrong and win first place was phenomenal,” Dasia said.
“My mom and I talk about it all the time. I often find myself in white-dominated spaces. That’s definitely one for the books.”
Dasia said she is a very curious person, and “follows something to its logical conclusion.”
Being named a top 300 finalist for the Regeneron Science Talent Search is “phenomenal,” Dasia said.
“I wanted to conduct research. I didn’t think I was going to get this far,” Dasia recalled. “This was really a chance for me to branch out and use my creativity.
“I love my project, and to find out that it was working and to get the results I did, I was over the moon.”
While Dasia doesn’t know what college she will attend next year, she plans on majoring in political science and wants to be a lawyer.
Dasia has been active in equity and restorative justice in the community for the past four years.
West High Principal Mitch Gross said he is incredibly proud Dasia has been awarded for her “keen intellect.”
Carolyn Walling was Dasia’s chemistry honors teacher last year and is the Iowa City schools science curriculum coordinator. Walling recommended Dasia for the Regeneron competition and helped her with her research.
“It’s fun to bring science out of a textbook and have ownership of it,” Walling said. “This was all Dasia, a completely unique project. She was the rock star of Iowa last year.”