Course Description

STEM 1 is taught by Dr. Crowthers and focuses on a five-six month long independent study project. This project can be a science , engineering, or mathematical project. With Dr. C as your advisor, you brainstorm, narrow your project idea, create your methods, and execute your project. You then present at February fair at Mass Academy with the other students or possibly bigger prizes depending on the success of your project. A general overview of my project is seen below.

Analyzing Airborne Wheat Flour Content in Relation to a Gluten Source


The overall objective of this project is to find at what proximity an object which gives off airborne wheat flour dust particles has a large enough gluten content, to possibly give a person with celiac disease an allergic reaction. I will collect dust samples with a controlled distribution of wheat flour particles as well as a more realistic environment with random distribution of wheat flour and use a colorimetric protein assay to measure the contents of various proteins at different distances and graph them on a standard curve. I suspect that as the distance increases the particles will disperse and the potential danger will significantly decrease. I believe the danger of airborne particles will be insignificant until extremely close to the source.


Around 1 percent of people around the world are affected by celiac disease, an autoimmune disease creating an intolerance to gluten. Gluten particles can contaminate food directly and then be ingested or become airborne and contaminate food indirectly. They can also be inhaled. Although inhaled particles often are not enough to cause a reaction, if enough are consumed, a reaction can occur. The distance at which airborne gluten particles become dangerous is unknown. To study the possible effects of inhalable gluten particles, airborne dust will be collected from a bread sample made of wheat flour. A protein assay will then be used to find the concentrations of gluten proteins at specified distances. Inhaling gluten may only become dangerous for people with celiac disease at a very short distance away from a bread product of three and one third cups of wheat flour (approximately 430 grams) when in proximity for 12 hours. These results show evidence that many public areas that are high exposure and allow for long occupation times still have an extremely small potential for hazard. This evidence allows vendors that sell or prepare both glutinous and non-glutinous products to create a safe space for patrons and the food that they prepare. The next step for this topic would include researching the time and amount of gluten for the experiments.

Research Proposal and Lit Review

Researchable Question

How does the amount of gluten content change in relation to distance from a source of gluten?


Gluten will spread very far but will only be dangerous at a extremely small distance unless in a high exposure area.


In recent times, celiac disease has become a very common problem and reactions to gluten can range from bothersome to disastrous. It affects more people everyday, recent numbers showing around 1% of the global population is affected to some degree (Pultz, 2021). The only solution to not receiving the symptoms of celiac disease is to follow a strict gluten free diet and even then it can become a problem. Airborne dust, especially in occupational environments, can be an incredibly harsh hazard (Stobnicka, 2015). There have been various studies connecting admittance into hospitals because of airborne particulate matter and respiratory problems. (Kumar, 2021). If under the restrictions of celiac disease, these small inhalable particles can become even more dangerous. Wheat flour, an extremely common kitchen item, is made from milling down wheat grains. This is the same as other flours. This grinding process releases many tiny particles that may be inhaled if in the vicinity. The finer the particle, the more dangerous (Lin, 2019). Regardless of the danger of particles, if breathed in by a celiac patient it can cause dire symptoms. As it is unavoidable in some situations, finding how dangerous household airborne dust may be is an important topic for the safety of celiac patients.


I will make simple bread dough out of wheat flour, water and yeast. I will leave it in an open area to rise and set out nine petri dishes at average human shoulder height evenly spaced 60o apart and 3 feet away from the bread, increasing the distance by three feet for each petri dish. I will let the dough and petri dishes sit for 12 hours. I will take an assay of diluted wheat flour as a control and get colorimetric data using a plate reader and to set the curve for my graph. For each sample, I will also take an assay for each petri dish and set it to the curve on my graph. I will repeat this process for a busy, realistic area: my kitchen.

Protein Assay Standard Curve


Example Protein Assay Plate



An ANOVA was performed between the control concentrations and the average concentrations for each distance, resulting in an F-Value of 5.8851 and P-Value of 0.0166. This means the variance between the control and the collected samples was significantly high enough to confirm there was a change in the samples. As it is less than 0.05, the p-value indicates that the chance that this data would appear randomly is low enough significantly increase the confidence in my data.


The average concentration had a slight increase from 0.5 meters to 1.0 meters indicating a possible area that dust does not settle as much. Overall, the percentage of the samples concentration was less than the 20 ppm (2E-5) benchmark set by the FDA. This means that in a period of less than or equal to 12 hours in the presence of 3 1/3 cups of gluten (approximately 430g) there is little to no danger of a person with celiac disease having an allergic reaction. Future research may include testing more distances for more specific results as well as increase/decrease the amount of wheat flour.



Shewry, P. (2019). What Is Gluten—Why Is It Special? Frontiers in Nutrition, 6. doi:10.3389/fnut.2019.00101   Pultz, I. S., Hill, M., Vitanza, J. M., Wolf, C., Saaby, L., Liu, T., Leffler, D. A. (2021, March 17). Gluten Degradation, Pharmacokinetics, Safety, and Tolerability of TAK-062, an Engineered Enzyme to Treat Celiac Disease. Retrieved November 16, 2021, from ii/S0016508521005278.  Lee, L. Burks, A. (2006, Aug 21). Food Allergies: Prevalence, Molecular Characterization, and Treatment/Preve ntion Strategies. Annual Reviews.  Stobnicka, A., & Górny, R. L. (2015). Exposure to flour dust in the occupational environment. Retrieved November 16, 2021, from les/PMC4685600/#CIT0064 Biesiekierski, J. R. (2017, February 28). What is gluten? Retrieved November 16, 2021, from https://onlinelibr da9b8®ionCode&wol1URL=/doi/10.1111/jg h.13703/ful Brough, H. A., Santos, A. F., Makinson, K., Penagos, M., Stephens, A. C., Douiri, A., . . . Lack, G. (2013). Peanut protein in household dust is related to household peanut consumption and is biologically active. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 132(3), 630-638. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2013.02.034