Forensic and Investigative Sciences Research Priorities

NIJ develops its forensic research, development and evaluation priorities with input from forensic science Technology Working Groups. The Technology Working Groups help NIJ ensure that current and future technologies meet practitioners' needs.

Learn more about NIJ's Technology Working Groups and how they contribute to the agency's research, development, testing and evaluation program.

High-Priority Needs

Within the investigative and forensic sciences, NIJ has identified the following high-priority research, development and evaluation needs of the field:

Improved capability to expand the information that can be extracted from traditional types of forensic evidence and to quantify its evidentiary value, including:

  • Identification or characterization of:
    • Biological markers that may reveal more information about biological evidence
    • New controlled substances or other chemical constituents of forensic importance
    • Fracture mechanics and error rates associated with bone trauma analysis
    • Natural, accidental, and non-accidental trauma to assist with determining cause of death of infants and children
    • Innovative methods in postmortem interval determination
    • Isomers or metabolites of commonly encountered drugs of abuse
  • Tools to expand the utility of or provide a quantitative measure/statistical evaluation and interpretation of forensic comparisons:
    • Pattern and impression evidence
    • Measure of components of evidentiary mixtures
    • Trace evidence
    • Postmortem toxicology levels
    • Alternative biological/genetic markers
    • Imaging technologies in postmortem examination, interpretation, and presentation of findings
    • Robust statistical models for use in identification of individuals — to incorporate anthropological data, odontological data, fingerprints, and DNA
    • Improved physical technologies to assist in sex and ancestry estimation
    • Population frequencies of phenotypic traits used in identification comparisons
    • Physical separation of cells or components in mixtures from two or more individuals or sources:
      • multiple cell types of differing cell morphology (example: sperm/epithelial)
      • multiple cell types with similar cell morphology (example: epithelial/buccal)
      • same cell types from different individuals
    • Updated reference datasets or methods to collect standardized reference data:
      • Skeletal datasets for sex estimation, age estimation, and ancestry estimation, particularly underrepresented populations
      • Parent drugs and metabolites
      • New, mass produced materials, including ecofibers, pigments, glass, and adhesives
      • Methods to obtain appropriate material properties data to input into computer fire models that can predict flame spread and fire growth
    • Develop a foundational basis for assigning value to evidence comparisons:
      • Prevalence of class characteristics within a population
      • Standardization of non-numeric criteria for identification of impression/pattern evidence
      • Reproducibility of characteristics between impressions/patterns made with the same item
      • Impact of examiner training experience, and certification, and facility accreditation, on the examination process and conclusion
      • Processes involved in evidence collection, examination, analysis, verification, and technical review and how each can contribute to error rate

Develop reliable and widely applicable tools and technologies that allow faster, cheaper and less labor-intensive identification, collection, preservation and analysis of forensic evidence of all kinds and the reduction of existing case backlogs, including:

  • Improved laboratory information management systems
  • Improved automated forensic analysis and quality assurance processes both in the wet laboratory and at the data analysis stage
  • Improved screening methods for use at crime scenes and in the laboratory to rapidly and accurately determine the evidentiary value of biological and non-biological materials while minimizing destruction/consumption
  • Improved tools for preserving evidence
  • Improved methods for DNA extraction and quantitation
  • Improved methods using existing instrumentation that will reduce processing time
  • Evaluation and operational validation of new and emerging technologies for instrumental analysis of forensic evidence
  • Innovative and automated techniques for the detection, recognition, and recovery of evidence materials
  • Rapid and affordable imaging technologies for use in postmortem examination

These priorities inform decisions about the scope of future work and the dissemination of NIJ-sponsored knowledge and technologies. At the same time, NIJ maintains the flexibility to respond to emerging needs and to consider the merits of individual projects that may contribute to other worthwhile goals.

Meeting the Top Priorities

To meet these high-priority needs, NIJ provides funding to:

  • Increase knowledge. NIJ supports both basic and applied research that will increase scientific knowledge to improve the understanding of the accuracy, reliability, and measurement validity of forensic science disciplines.
  • Develop tools and technologies. Demand exceeds capacity at most crime laboratories. NIJ develops innovative tools and technologies that will save time and money.
  • Better understanding the impact of forensic science. NIJ has initiated several evaluations to assess the impact of forensic science on the criminal justice system.
  • Provide technology assistance and training. Through the Forensic Resource Network and the Forensic Science Technology Center of Excellence, NIJ provides assistance with quality assurance, evaluation, and implementation of new technologies. It has developed several interactive trainings and field guidance documents.
  • Enhance laboratory capabilities and capacity. NIJ provides funding to help laboratories streamline their operations, recruit qualified staff and process more cases faster, with greater accuracy.
Date Modified: March 24, 2014