Call it the case of the missing cake.
Tracking down the culprit responsible for swiping a cake from a conference room inside the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) Crime Lab was the recent mission facing a group of potential forensic experts.
The group of about 30 girls between the ages 4 and from Project Scientist, a summer STEM academy, were well trained in how to solve the case after touring the Crime Lab on July 3.
STEM is the commonly known academic acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
With OCSD Supervising Forensic Scientist Stephanie Callian leading the tour, the girls visited multiple departments in the Crime Lab. They learned how to collect and analyze evidence such as fingerprints and DNA samples.
The group was the youngest to have ever toured the crime lab, Callian said.
“(The girls) are just getting a whole smattering of what forensic science is all about,” Callian said. “They are having a blast … It’s really nice to see them exploring a scientific field and scientific profession, where we hope they have the courage to continue on in their education and eventually end up in a career like this one.”
The girls started the day off with a briefing in the conference room, where a sheet cake was sitting prominently on a table near the door.
The young sleuths then toured the building, where they saw OCSD’s various scientific and technological tools, demonstrated by the experts who use them.
“I’m so excited,” said Leila, 7. “I love it. I love this field trip.”
When the girls returned to the conference room, the cake was gone.
But the suspected thief left clues everywhere. A handwritten note and an icing-laden fingerprint were among the most obvious.
With their newfound knowledge, the girls from Project Scientist were able to analyze ink on paper and lift a fingerprint on a wall near a doorway.
“They’re all so excited to be here and to ask all the scientists and specialists questions about what they do,” said Jessica Stellmann, site director of Project Scientist Academy, based at Concordia University in Irvine. “It’s awesome to see all the different departments and see how they work.”
Mary Izadi, constitutional policing advisor for the OCSD, helped organize the field trip after a friend connected her with Sandy Marshall, the CEO and founder of Project Scientist.
Izadi learned that the mission of Project Scientist is to foster enthusiasm for STEM careers in young girls.
“I was instantly fascinated with what they did,” Izadi said. “It was very interesting to me. She started telling me about the program and how they are affiliated with Cal Tech and all these amazing universities.”
When Izadi learned that Project Scientist’s curriculum includes themed activities, with one being “science crime week,” she approached OCSD officials about bringing the budding scientists into the Crime Lab for a tour.
“It’s been phenomenal,” Izadi said. “The kids are so engaged and the Crime Lab has done a phenomenal job.”
As it turned out, the case of the missing cake was not a crime at all, but a misunderstanding.
An employee of the Crime Lab had merely taken the cake to decorate it.
When she returned with the newly adorned cake and explained what she had done, the case was solved.
It was a piece of cake.