On December 17, 2022, NIJ, a component of the Office of Justice Programs, announced $14.4 million in funding to support 30 forensic science research and development projects in fiscal year 2021 under its Research and Development in Forensic Science for Criminal Justice Purposes solicitation. Through its research and development (R&D) grant funding, NIJ continues to advance the speed, accuracy, and reliability of forensic analysis, which ultimately bolsters the administration of justice.
“With these awards, NIJ continues its dedication to strengthening the criminal justice system through forensic science research and development,” said Lucas Zarwell, director of NIJ’s Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences. “We appreciate all the innovative and dedicated scientists who are committed to increasing our understanding of or producing useful technologies for the forensic sciences.”
Funding Highlights for Fiscal Year 2021
Since 2009, NIJ has invested $270 million in its R&D in Forensic Science for Criminal Justice Purposes program – its largest funding portfolio – making it a global leader in the advancement of forensic science. The program spans a wide breadth of disciplines from forensic DNA to seized drugs to forensic anthropology and more. The following are a few examples from this year’s awards:
In hit-and-run crimes, a paint smear may be one of the few pieces of evidence left at the scene. This project will apply deep learning methods — convolutional neural networks — to help classify the infrared spectra of automotive clear coats by manufacturer and assembly plant. This has promise to yield more accurate leads to aid investigations.
The presence of gunshot residue particles on a person’s body or clothing may be associated with proximity to a firearm discharge. Current methods of analysis focus only on the inorganic content and are not well suited to modern lead-free ammunition. This project will continue a line of research to develop non-contact laser spectroscopic methods to quickly locate and identify both the organic and inorganic components of gunshot residue.
Mass burials, mass disasters, and other circumstances may result in commingling of human remains. Sorting commingled remains back to their individual skeletons is challenging and time consuming. The goal of this project is to develop a protocol to sort commingled remains through the use of a portable LIBS instrument.
Forensic anthropologists routinely use radiographic comparisons to generate positive identifications of human skeletal remains in casework. However, there is little research on the reliability and validity of radiographic comparisons for identification. This project seeks to address that research gap by investigating observer reliability in radiographic identifications and assessing the accuracy of the identification based on anatomical location and number of features analyzed.
Investigative Genetic Genealogy (IGG) offers a capability to identify investigative leads when CODIS searching is unproductive. IGG can provide time-efficient methods for removing those who perpetrate of serial violent crimes, such as rape and murder from the community, thereby increasing public safety. However, use of IGG has preceded establishment of best practices. This study will assess the ability of genotyping technologies to develop useful profiles from low-template and degraded sexual assault samples for genealogical searching in law enforcement accessible direct-to-consumer genealogical databases and support rapid, accurate, efficient identification of the samples’ source.
Digital penetration as a form of sexual assault has gained much attention recently in the media. Only a handful of reports have attempted to evaluate the persistence of male profiles in digital penetration evidence and even fewer have evaluated the persistence of female DNA under the fingernails of male suspects. Additionally, no studies, with the exception of one case report, demonstrate the ability to also determine the source of that female DNA as vaginal secretions. The goal of the proposed work is to develop a full analysis workflow to permit the identification and an evaluation of the bi-directional transfer, notably male suspect to female victim and female victim to male suspect as well as the persistence of trace biological material in digital penetration cases.
As cannabis/marijuana use is legalized across the country, and knowing that its use can impair executive functions needed for driving, the need for a roadside technology to detect impairment from marijuana in drivers is critical. This project will collect and analyze breath samples from cannabis users to determine the feasibility of a breath-based test for use in the field.
Evolving drug landscapes and regulations can create analytical challenges for forensic laboratories processing seized drug evidence. Laboratories must constantly evaluate current methods and look for more reliable, efficient, and reproducible results. This project will investigate an innovative microfluidic platform for automating routine color test procedures and performing multiple tests simultaneously, while also providing a quantitative metric for objective interpretation of these color tests.