A humanities-focused high school junior — who was already overextended in student senate, on the district’s diversity and equity committee and through a myriad of other anti-racism focused activities — Taylor had no background, or interest frankly, in science fairs. But she lives by a simple code: Be curious.
With purses in the thousands and competitors honing ideas and tactics since elementary school, today’s science fair projects are far from the slapdash papier-mâché volcanoes of yore. The odds were so stacked against her that taking home a win would be the STEM equivalent of Rudy scoring a last-second touchdown.
But Taylor didn’t just win that competition, she won the next one and the one after that, too. Eventually, she made her way to the final stage of the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the Super Bowl of high school science competitions. And the resulting publicity about her unlikely story and possibly world-changing proposal made Taylor a viral sensation, thrusting the vivacious teenager into the spotlight and onto “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “PBS NewsHour” and CNN, among others.
Taylor’s invention — a medical suture that uses beet juice to indicate when surgical wounds have become infected — was born out of her equity work, she says. Specifically, she was inspired by research showing that Black people are disproportionately affected by post-surgical complications, including infections, and that oft-repeated diagnosable signs of infection like redness of the skin and swelling don’t appear as easily on darker skin tones.
If taken to market, Taylor’s suture concept, for which she is seeking patents, could offer a simple, cheap solution for low- and middle-income countries where common, treatable infections are too often deadly.
Two years on from her viral moment, Taylor, 19, is not just a college student, but the founder and CEO of VariegateHealth, an inclusion-focused medical device company, and the face of her own “head nerd brand,” for which she uses hands-on “innovation workshops” to encourage kids to take an interest in science and live authentically.
“I’ve been adamant from the beginning: notoriety is superficial,” she says. “Without it, I wouldn’t have as big of a platform, but it’s not something to get swallowed up in.”
Instead, she’s using her celebrity “to be a vessel for change.”
Make no mistake, Taylor, who is being honored as USA Today’s Woman of the Year from Iowa, is out to shake up the world and nothing less. But for now, she’s building out a team to enter a new phase of testing on her suture and eventually make the device commercially viable, a timeline she knows is measured in years, if not decades. She’s also formalizing her workshops and plans to contract with local school districts to bring her design-thinking lessons directly into classrooms.
This article was culled from Des Moines Register