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High Schooler Creates Sutures That Change Color To Show Infections

Dasia Taylor is only a high school student, but she is already revolutionizing medical practices in developing nations. She developed a science fair project that uses natural dyes to detect infections in wounds. She has won several regional science fair awards and was named one of the 40 finalists in the Regeneron Science Talent Search.

Managing infections after surgery are critical.

Taylor had read about conductive sutures, which could monitor the status of healing wounds based on electrical resistance. Doctors could receive this information via a smart device to carefully monitor infections. This option is too expensive and less applicable in developing nations. Yet, on average, 11% of surgical wounds develop an infection in developing nations. Taylor set it upon herself to solve this problem.

The solution was beet juice.

When a wound becomes infected, the PH of the infected area increases, and that increase in PH can be detected with beet juice. The high PH reacts with the beet juice and changes the color of the juice from bright red to a light purple-grey. Thus, Taylor suspected that if she dyed sutures with beet juice, they will change color if the wound becomes infected, which would alert doctors to the issue. In the end, she ended up juicing 36 beets for her project. But her hunch paid off.

Taylor is delighted by her accomplishment.

"I wanted to conduct research. I didn't think I was going to get this far," Taylor told The Gazette. "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."

Her teachers are very proud of her as well. "It's fun to bring science out of a textbook and have ownership of it," Carolyn Walling, Taylor’s honors chemistry teacher, said. "This was all Dasia, a completely unique project. She was the rock star of Iowa last year."

Taylor also works to encourage minority students to get more involved with STEM.

When asked about her experience, Taylor told the student news site West Side Story, "Also, just being a black student, and a black student in white spaces — that's really hard. I try to inspire other black students in the district [or], I mean, really anywhere. I hope that I've done that. I don’t know for sure."

To further this goal, Taylor volunteers at her elementary school to talk to kids about science. She tells them about the work she has done and develops hands-on science projects for the kids to try. "There's a lot of inspiration going around in the high school community and junior highs, but even down at the elementary level, I still try to give back and give my time and make sure that people can see all these awesome things," she explained.

h/t: Smithsonian Mag