After winning a state science fair & becoming a finalist in a national competition, Dasia Taylor now has her sights phối on a patent

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Seventeen-year-old Dasia Taylor was named one of 40 finalists in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the country’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors. (Courtesy of Society for Science)

Dasia Taylor has juiced about three dozen beets in the last 18 months. The root vegetables, she’s found, provide the perfect dye for her invention: suture thread that changes color, from bright red to lớn dark purple, when a surgical wound becomes infected.

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The 17-year-old student at Iowa City West High School in Iowa City, Iowa, began working on the project in October 2019, after her chemistry teacher shared information about state-wide science fairs with the class. As she developed her sutures, she nabbed awards at several regional science fairs, before advancing to lớn the national stage. This January, Taylor was named one of 40 finalists in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the country’s oldest & most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors.

As any science fair veteran knows, at the core of a successful project is a problem in need of solving. Taylor had read about sutures coated with a conductive material that can sense the status of a wound by changes in electrical resistance, & relay that information to lớn the smartphones or computers of patients và doctors. While these “smart” sutures could help in the United States, the expensive sầu tool might be less applicable lớn people in developing countries, where internet access and Smartphone công nghệ is sometimes lacking. And yet the need is there; on average, 11 percent of surgical wounds develop an infection in low- and middle-incoming countries, according to the World Health Organization, compared to lớn between 2 and 4 percent of surgeries in the U.S.


Infections after Cesarean sections particularly caught Taylor’s attention. In some African nations, up to lớn 20 percent of women who give birth by C-section then develop surgical site infections. Retìm kiếm has also shown that health centers in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi have sầu similar or lower rates of infection, at between 2 và 10 percent, following C-sections than the U.S., where rates range from 8 to 10 percent.

But điện thoại thông minh access is markedly different. A BBC survey published in 2016 found that in Sierra Leone, about 53 percent of people own di động phones, và about three-quarters of those owned basic cell phones, not smartphones.

“I"ve sầu done a lot of racial equity work in my community, I"ve been a guest speaker at several conferences,” says Taylor. “So when I was presented with this opportunity khổng lồ vì chưng retìm kiếm, I couldn"t help but go at it with an equity lens.”

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Taylor spent most of her time after school in the Blaông xã History trò chơi Show, a club she’s been a member of since eighth grade, & attending weekly school board và district meetings khổng lồ advocate for an anti-racist curriculum. For the four months leading up to lớn her first regional science fair in February 20đôi mươi, Taylor committed Friday afternoons to lớn retìm kiếm under the guidance of her chemistry teacher, Carolyn Walling.

Healthy human skin is naturally acidic, with a pH around five sầu. But when a wound becomes infected, its pH goes up khổng lồ about nine. Changes in pH can be detected without electronics; many fruits & vegetables are natural indicators that change color at different pH levels.

“I found that beets changed color at the perfect pH point,” says Taylor. Bright red beet juice turns dark purple at a pH of nine. “That"s perfect for an infected wound. And so, I was like, ‘Oh, okay. So beets is where it"s at.’”

Next, Taylor had khổng lồ find a suture thread that would hold onto lớn the dye. She tested ten different materials, including standard suture thread, for how well they picked up and held the dye, whether the dye changed color when its pH changed, & how their thickness compared to lớn standard suture thread. After her school transitioned khổng lồ remote learning, she could spkết thúc four or five sầu hours in the lab on an asynchronous lesson day, running experiments.

A cotton-polyester blkết thúc checked all the boxes. After five sầu minutes under an infection-like pH, the cotton-polyester thread changes from bright red lớn dark purple. After three days, the purple fades to lớn light gray.

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After five minutes under an infection-like pH, the cotton-polyester thread changes from bright red lớn dark purple. (Courtesy of Society for Science)
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After three days, the purple fades to lớn light gray. (Courtesy of Society for Science)

Working with an eye on equity in global health, she hopes that the color-changing sutures will someday help patients detect surgical site infections as early as possible so that they can seek medical care when it has the most impact. Taylor plans khổng lồ patent her invention. In the meantime, she’s waiting for her final college admissions results.

“To get lớn the Top 40, this is lượt thích post-doctoral work that these kids are doing,” says Maya Ajmera, the president & CEO of the Society for Science, which runs the Science Talent Search. This year’s top prizes went to a matching algorithm that can find pairs in an infinite pool of options, a computer Model that can help identify useful compounds for pharmaceutical retìm kiếm & a sustainable drinking water filtration system. The finalists also voted khổng lồ grant Taylor the Seaborg Award, making her a spokesperson for their cohort.

Kathryn Chu, the director of the Center for Global Surgery at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, focuses on improving equitable access lớn surgical care. “I think it is amazing that this young high school scientist was inspired lớn work on a solution to lớn address this problem,” the surgeon writes in an tin nhắn. “A product that could detect early would be extremely valuable.”

However, she adds, “how this concept could translate from the bench to the bedside needs further testing.”

Current suture threads are good at their job: they’re affordable, they’re not irritating on the skin, and they are svào enough to hold a wound together. The beet juice-dyed thread will need lớn be competitive sầu on all of these attributes. Surgical site infections can also occur below the surface of a wound—a C-section involves cutting through, & then repairing, not just the skin but also the muscle underneath. As it stands, the color-changing suture thread wouldn’t help detect an infection below the skin, and “if the infection oozes through the skin, or involves the skin, the infection has already reached later stages,” writes Chu.

Lastly, the same non-absorbency that makes standard suture thread hard khổng lồ dye with beet juice also keeps bacteria out, and vice versa. While cốt tông thread’s braided structure gives it the ability to pick up the beet dye, it also provides a hiding place for bacteria that cause infections.

Taylor has been pursuing a line of retìm kiếm since the beginning of her project that might counteract the risks posed by using cotton.

“I read some studies that said beet juice was antibacterial. And although I want to take their word, I wanted khổng lồ try it for myself. I wanted to reproduce their results,” says Taylor.

Working with an eye on equity in global health, she hopes that the color-changing sutures will someday help patients detect surgical site infections as early as possible so that they can seek medical care when it has the most impact. (Courtesy of Society for Science)

But studying bacteria requires specific, sterile practices that neither Taylor, nor her mentors Walling và Michelle Wikner, both chemistry teachers, were initially familiar with. In the months leading up lớn the Science Talent Search competition, Taylor connected with microbiologist Theresa Ho at University of Iowa lớn create a retìm kiếm plan incorporating the proper techniques, & that work is ongoing.

Reflecting on the science fair experience, Taylor most wants lớn thank Carolyn Walling for encouraging her to lớn participate. “We"re kind of basking in all of this together,” she says, especially because it’s her first year doing independent research. She’s also thankful for the support of her community.

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“I have so much school pride because when somebody toàn thân in our school does something great, they"re celebrated to its fullest extent,” says Taylor. “And being able to lớn be one of those kids has been so amazing.”

After graduation, Taylor hopes khổng lồ attover Howard University, study political science & eventually become a lawyer.

“I am looking forward to seeing how Dasia uses this project moving forward,” says Ajmera. “And on a long-term scale, I’m really interested in watching what problems she is going khổng lồ continue to solve sầu, khổng lồ make the world a better place.”