When three high school students in Pennsylvania went back to school this month, if asked, they will have an interesting answer to “how was your summer vacation?”

These three young women, Safriani Adnan (SciTech High, Harrisburg), Angela Harris (SciTech High, Harrisburg) and Emily Weisand (Woodland Hills High School, Pittsburgh) spent their summers investigating the impact of gluten on bread quality through Penn State’s Upward Bound program. Upward Bound is a federally funded program designed to provide support, encouragement, and opportunities for high school students from low-income families and high school students from families in which neither parent holds a bachelor’s degree. Upward Bound’s six-week summer program provides students with the opportunity to take coursework designed to prepare them for postsecondary education. Universities across the country participate in Upward Bound as part of a government initiative to grow learning for students.

Penn State’s Upward Bound Math & Science Program assists students from Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Reading and Pittsburgh area high schools with recognizing their academic potential and cultivating interest in STEM professions through hands-on experience during the UBMS Summer STEM Academy.

As part of this program, students have the opportunity to conduct research projects with academic mentors at Penn State. Safriani, Angela, and Emily selected projects with the university’s Department of Food Science. With the guidance of Charlene Van Buiten, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Food Science, Jared Smith, the department’s Teaching Laboratory Manager, and Dr. Ryan Elias, as faculty mentor, the students created a project called “What’s Up With Gluten?” The project was an investigation of the impact of gluten content on bread quality.  In their first set of experiments, students baked white bread varying the amount of time that the dough was kneaded. The kneading process is a crucial step in breadmaking for gluten network formation. Their analyses included calculation of loaf volume and gluten content, as well as texture analysis. Crumb firmness/compressibility was measured using a TA.XTPlus and acrylic cylindrical probe fixture and and crust crispness/ability to be slices was measured using a blade probe. As expected, they found that increasing the amount of time a dough was kneaded resulted in more dense loaves of bread that had more firm crumb structure.

The students were then tasked to formulate gluten-free breads using flours from different grains - sorghum, teff, quinoa, rice and rice plus xanthan gum - and measure the impact that these grains had on color, texture, volume and taste compared to a wheat bread control.  Color analysis was done using a colorimeter (L*a*b*), and the texture analyses remained the same.  The students found that while the crust crispness was not affected by the type of flour used, there were significant difference in compressibility between the wheat control and some of the treatments- breads made from teff, rice flour and sorghum all required greater force to compress the crumb.

The students presented their results with a ten minute talk about their experiments and findings at a research symposium at Penn State. They concluded with hypotheses for future work that included ideas about how to combine a variety of gluten-free flours to create a gluten-free bread that had qualities similar to wheat bread in terms of color, texture, and taste. Their presentation was highly applauded and won them first place in the College of Agriculture division. Congratulations Safriani, Angela, and Emily!

Texture Technologies believes strongly in supporting food science education and we’re delighted that students are exposed to our instruments through programs like Upward Bound. Many universities and colleges offer Upward Bound programs. If you are interested in participating as a mentor, please contact your university’s Upward Bound department (check with student services if you’re unable to locate the correct department). If your school does not currently offer an Upward Bound program, you can contact the federal Department of Education to review your school’s eligibility to participate in the program:

Ken Waters U.S. Department of Education 1990 K Street, N.W., Suite 7000 Mail Stop OPE-K-7-7063 Washington, DC 20006 Telephone: (202) 502-7586 E-mail: OPE_TRIO@ed.gov

If you are a high school student or you know one who would like to participate in an Upward Bound program, you can contact the federal Department of Education for help finding a program:

TRIO Upward Bound and Educational Opportunity Centers Division Gaby Watts, Director (202) 502-7545 gaby.watts@ed.gov