Dazzling the Nation

Iowa teen sparks medical innovation

When Dasia Taylor turned 16, one of her former elementary school teachers gifted her the first book in the Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls series. The children’s book features 100 illustrated success stories of extraordinary women who’ve made an impact, from Amelia Earhart to Maya Angelou. Just three years later, Dasia is featured in the series’ newest volume for her invention of color-changing sutures to detect infections, a fast-paced endeavor that began in a high school classroom.

While in her junior year at West High in Iowa City, her chemistry teacher asked students to raise their hand if they wanted to compete in the local science fair competition. Dasia raised her hand, not knowing then that it would change her life. After forming a game plan with her teacher, she decided to focus her project on healthcare.

“I told her I was a huge fan of Grey’s Anatomy, and I was very clear in saying I didn’t have any previous science experience,” Dasia joked. “I was really just wanting to prove to myself that I could participate in science activities. So, I assured her that if you invest in me, you won’t regret it.”

Embracing the Challenge

For the next six months, Dasia dove headfirst into the research process. The idea for creating color-changing sutures to detect infection came from reading about “smart sutures” that could relay similar information to a phone or tablet. However, Dasia wanted this technology to be more accessible to communities who may not be able to afford it. She dedicated Friday evenings to lab work while doing the rest of the research on her own time with just a computer.

After experimenting with different dyes and suture types, she developed cotton-polyester coated sutures soaked in dye made from beet juice. The dye changes from bright red to dark purple and grey when the chemical imbalances that indicate an infection occur. Once she had developed a few samples, she began preparing to compete in the 2020 Junior Science and Humanity’s Symposium.

Dasia smiling at the camera and holding an award.

It was an intimidating and grueling process. Each student was required to give an oral presentation alongside a descriptive poster and submit a 20-page paper about their project. As a first-time competitor, Dasia was going up against students who had been participating for several years, including a senior who had won the previous year.

“I started thinking there was no way I would win with only six months of science experience,” Dasia said. “But I was there with my mentor and right before I went up on stage, she received a text from another teacher saying I was going to dazzle them. And I did just that.”

At the awards ceremony the next day, Dasia and her support group were thrilled when her name was announced as the first-place champion. It provided a boost in confidence that encouraged her to take the project to other regional competitions, such as the Eastern Iowa Science and Engineering Fair, before progressing to the national stage.

Then, in 2021 at 17 years old, Dasia was announced as one of the 40 finalists in the 2021 National Regeneron Science Talent Search. After that, the media began taking notice of her achievements, earning her appearances on PBS, The Today Show and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. This all took place while she was completing her senior year of high school, often requiring her to put in 14+ hour days between classes, research, other competitions and media interviews.

Finally, her high school graduation arrived in May of 2021. That fall, she attended the University of Iowa as a political science major but began to miss the science and research processes that had consumed the past year of her life. So, she returned in the spring as a Global Health major. After the conclusion of her freshman year, she then decided to take a gap year to continue her research and get her sutures patented.

Returning to Her Roots

Iowa City Press-Citizen article showing an image of Dasia with the title "Be Curious"

Today, alongside listening to music and crafting charcuterie boards, 19-year-old Dasia is giving back to the community that has provided her so much support. After learning of her inclusion in the newest volume of the Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls series, she returned to her former teacher’s classroom to gift each student a copy and spend an afternoon showing off her project and talking about opportunities in STEM. Now, she’s on a mission to ensure every school district in Iowa has the book series in their libraries.

Meanwhile, she’s also meeting with education groups to promote racial equity and continues the patent process with a goal of starting a medical device company, all with an emphasis on keeping her work in Iowa.

“Giving back to my community is in my blood. Being here for so many years, I’ve gotten used to people waving at me in the street, which can’t be replicated anywhere else,” Dasia said. “And because of that, Iowa is the place where I want to build something and continue to grow in whatever way that path unfolds. I want to show that Iowa has cool things too.”

Published March 8, 2023

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