Celebrating student research | Grace Williamson develops spray gel for burn wounds

Grace Williamson is among 82 students recognized on downtown Iowa City banners for their dedication to research at the University of Iowa.


Isabella Cervantes

Grace Williamson poses for a portrait in the Seamans Center. on Thursday, Feb 3, 2022.

Samantha Bielema, News Reporter

Grace Williamson, a University of Iowa senior, is researching advancements in burn wound technology to treat third- and fourth-degree burns.

Williamson is on a team that curated different drug loading techniques for pain relief medicine. The project focuses on burn wounds and the thermal technology behind a spray gel instead of a standard bandage.

“I’ve been interested in science since I was little — my dad was an engineer and my brother grew up to be an engineer,” she said.

Williams is one of 82 UI students recognized in downtown Iowa City as part of the Dare to Discover campaign. The campaign consists of public lamp post banners displaying the students and what they’re researching.

The banners, featuring undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students, will be downtown until the end of March.

Williamson has conducted research in the realm of chemical engineering since the summer of her freshman year, but she’s always been interested in STEM. Whether it was the curation of pharmaceuticals, research, or the medical field, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in bettering medicine.

One quality of Williamson’s that her mentors, professor, and peers agree on is her passion for her research, said Jennifer Fiegel, Williamson’s adviser and UI associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering.

“Her excitement for what she was doing is what really made her stand out,” Fiegel said. “She was always willing to learn and get better.”

UI chemical engineering Professor David Murhammer said Williamson’s curiosity and drive is what made her so successful during her college career. He said Williamson has worked extremely hard to be where she is today and that is clear in the research she has completed at the university.

During her time at the UI, Williamson has been involved in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers for three years and on its executive board for two. She is also a member of the UI’s chemical engineering honors society, Omega Chi Epsilon, the professional chemical engineering fraternity, Theta Tau, and the Alpha Phi Panhellenic Council sorority.

“I think they front load you with classes during your time as an undergraduate so you can eventually put all your time towards your research for your next couple years,” said Riannon Smith, chemical engineering graduate student researcher on Williamson’s project.

Williamson has dedicated three of her four years of her undergraduate degree to her project. She joined Fiegel’s lab with Smith back in 2019.

Although strides have been made toward getting the product out there, Williamson said it will take years before it is usable by the public.

Williamson, who will pursue her research in graduate school, said she plans to move out of state but hasn’t yet decided on where she will end up in the fall.

“University of North Carolina is my dream school, and I heard back this week that I got accepted,” she said.

Williamson said it is difficult to balance a full class schedule while working in a lab. It takes an extreme amount of self-discipline and time management to be able to be successful in a field like this one, she said.

“If you’re going to wait until you want to do it, you’ll never do it,” Williamson said. “You have to do the things you don’t want to do. Realizing that has helped me the most.”