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Forensic Science Research and Development Technology Working Group: Operational Requirements

Date Published
December 18, 2019

The Forensic Science Research and Development Technology Working Group (TWG) is a committee of approximately 50 experienced forensic science practitioners from local, state, and federal agencies and laboratories.

Through the formation of this TWG, NIJ reaches out to the forensic science practitioner community to identify, discuss, and prioritize operational needs and requirements. These needs and requirements help inform NIJ's planned and ongoing research and development activities, and ensure that future research and development investments meet practitioner-driven needs. This is the first phase NIJ's research and development process.

The most recent list of needs and requirements was developed based on discussion at the Forensic Science Research and Development TWG meeting  This meeting was held November 13 and 14, 2019. Practitioner representatives from the majority of forensic disciplines were represented including: drug chemists, forensic DNA analysts, forensic pathologists, forensic anthropologists, impression and pattern evidence examiners, toxicologists, questioned document examiners, crime scene investigators, and trace examiners, among others.

Disciplines represented by the Forensic Science Technology Working Group include (select a link to learn more about NIJ's work in each area):

Updated Requirements

To view requirements specific to a forensic discipline or focus area, use the search box. Download a PDF version of the table (pdf, 10 pages).

Forensic Science Technology Working Group Operational Requirements (Updated November 2019)
Operational Requirements Forensic Discipline(s) Activity
Scientific foundations for expert conclusions of forensic evidence Impression & Pattern Evidence; Trace Evidence Scientific Research
Development and validation of standardized forensic methods and conclusions Impression & Pattern Evidence; Trace Evidence Scientific Research; Technology Development; Policy or Protocol Development
Determination of accuracy and reliability of forensic analyses and conclusions, including potential sources of error Impression & Pattern Evidence; Trace Evidence Scientific Research; Technology Development
Practical statistical approaches for the interpretation of forensic evidence Impression & Pattern Evidence; Trace Evidence Scientific Research; Technology Development; Assessment & Evaluation; Databases or Reference Collections
Evaluation of the effectiveness of varied types of review and/or verification of casework, testimony, and investigative leads Impression & Pattern Evidence; Trace Evidence Scientific Research; Policy or Protocol Development; Assessment & Evaluation; Databases or Reference Collections
Evaluation of qualified language of association along the continuum from investigative leads to definitive conclusions Impression & Pattern Evidence; Trace Evidence Scientific Research; Policy or Protocol Development
Novel and/or improved evidence recognition, collection, and visualization tools and analytical instrumentation for field and lab use Impression & Pattern Evidence; Trace Evidence Scientific Research; Technology Development; Assessment & Evaluation
Evaluation of the effects of inter- and intra-disciplinary sequential evidence processing and analytical methods Impression & Pattern Evidence; Trace Evidence Scientific Research; Technology Development; Policy or Protocol Development; Assessment & Evaluation
Determination of the optimal content and frequency of proficiency tests to evaluate performance and mitigate risk Impression & Pattern Evidence; Trace Evidence Scientific Research; Policy or Protocol Development
Understanding of the cognitive processes involved in pattern recognition as applied to forensic comparative analysis Impression & Pattern Evidence; Trace Evidence Scientific Research
Quantitative methods to augment visual trace evidence screening and examinations Trace Evidence Scientific Research; Technology Development; Assessment & Evaluation
Comprehensive evaluation of the detection and utility of organic gunshot residues Trace Evidence Scientific Research; Technology Development; Assessment & Evaluation
Fundamental understanding of how environmental factors can affect trace evidence Trace Evidence Scientific Research
Evaluation of non-DNA approaches for human hair screening or comparison Trace Evidence Scientific Research
Determination of the causes of textile physical damage (e.g., tear, cut, stab, shot, burn) and evaluation of the persistence of damage characteristics Trace Evidence Scientific Research
Understanding the interference of or chemical interaction between sexual lubricants, personal care products, and the human body Trace Evidence Scientific Research; Technology Development
Development of a comprehensive extraction method to allow for both DNA and sexual lubricant analysis from a single sample Trace Evidence Scientific Research; Technology Development; Assessment & Evaluation
Construction of new and updating of existing databases with properties of manufactured materials Trace Evidence Databases or Reference Collections
Identification and characterization of nanomaterials in evidentiary materials Trace Evidence Scientific Research; Databases or Reference Collections
Objective and validated methods to classify spatter patterns by the mechanism of formation Bloodstain Pattern Analysis Scientific Research; Technology Development; Assessment & Evaluation
Fundamental understanding of droplet formation, droplet trajectory and the resultant formation of bloodstain patterns Bloodstain Pattern Analysis Scientific Research; Technology Development
Understanding of the interaction of blood with fabrics and textiles Bloodstain Pattern Analysis Scientific Research
Understanding of the creation and obscuration of fire patterns due to ventilation effects Fire & Arson Investigation Scientific Research
Evaluation of methods for origin and cause determination Fire & Arson Investigation Assessment & Evaluation
Standardized procedures for collecting, preserving, and analyzing building system electronic data Fire & Arson Investigation Technology Development; Assessment & Evaluation
Understanding of the effect of materials properties on the development and interpretation of fire patterns Fire & Arson Investigation Scientific Research; Technology Development; Databases or Reference Collections
Field and laboratory techniques for the quantitative measurement of fire patterns Fire & Arson Investigation Scientific Research; Technology Development; Assessment & Evaluation
Tools for fire investigators to evaluate the effects of fuel characteristics on the growth and spread of fires Fire & Arson Investigation Technology Development; Databases or Reference Collections
Characterization of electrical system response as a means to study fire progression Fire & Arson Investigation Scientific Research
Adequate materials property data inputs for accurate computer fire models Fire & Arson Investigation Scientific Research; Databases or Reference Collections
Evaluation of incident heat flux profiles to walls and neighboring items in support of fire model validation Fire & Arson Investigation Scientific Research
Repeatability and reproducibility of test measurements of large-scale structure fires Fire & Arson Investigation Scientific Research
Evaluation of the probative value of general wear on outsoles during footwear examinations Footwear Scientific Research
Determination of relevant populations for the interpretation of class associations in footwear/tire impression evidence Footwear; Tire Tread Scientific Research; Databases or Reference Collections
Evaluation of Schallamach features on footwear outsoles and their utility for source determination Footwear Scientific Research; Databases or Reference Collections
Algorithms for automated searching of make and model of crime scene footwear or tire impressions within a database of known footwear outsole or tire tread patterns Footwear; Tire Tread Technology Development; Assessment & Evaluation; Databases or Reference Collections
Understanding of the relationship between manufacturing techniques and the resultant features used for outsole comparisons Footwear Scientific Research; Assessment & Evaluation; Databases or Reference Collections
Understanding of the morphological variability of the shape of the foot and the resulting shoeless impression [barefoot and socked] Footwear Scientific Research
Understanding of the variability of dimensional characteristics that occur during the replication of impressions Footwear Scientific Research; Technology Development
Characterization of footwear and tire impressions made from geologically based materials for selecting appropriate chemical enhancement techniques Footwear; Tire Tread Scientific Research; Technology Development; Assessment & Evaluation
Reference collection databases of handwriting samples, copybook curricula, typewriter and computer font styles Forensic Document Examination Databases or Reference Collections
Quantitative assessment of intra- and inter-person handwriting and handprinting variation Forensic Document Examination Scientific Research; Technology Development; Assessment & Evaluation; Databases or Reference Collections
Assessment of the comparability of different forms of writing from individuals (e.g., initials, signatures, handwriting, hand printing, foreign writing) Forensic Document Examination Scientific Research
Understanding of the kinematics of handwriting and digitally captured signatures Forensic Document Examination Scientific Research
Comparative evaluation of automated handwriting identification systems Forensic Document Examination Assessment & Evaluation
Optimal methods and materials for the preservation, visualization, recovery and comparison of tool marks in cartilage and bone Tool Marks; Forensic Pathology; Forensic Anthropology Scientific Research; Technology Development; Assessment & Evaluation
Source attribution of drug tablets using manufacturing tool marks Tool Marks; Seized Drugs Scientific Research; Technology Development; Assessment & Evaluation; Databases or Reference Collections
Biological evidence screening tools that can address any or all of the following: identify areas on evidence with DNA, time since sample deposition, number of contributors, proportions of contributors, or sex of contributor(s) Forensic Biology/DNA Scientific Research; Technology Development
The ability to differentiate, physically separate, and selectively analyze DNA and/or cells from multiple donors or multiple tissue/cell types contributing to mixtures, with minimal or no sample loss Forensic Biology/DNA Scientific Research; Technology Development
Improved DNA collection devices or methods for recovery and release of DNA Forensic Biology/DNA Scientific Research; Technology Development; Policy or Protocol Development
The ability to associate cell type and/or fluid with DNA profile, primarily for mixture DNA profiles Forensic Biology/DNA Scientific Research; Technology Development; Policy or Protocol Development
Better understanding of advanced approaches to removing steps from typical DNA processing workflows (e.g., extraction, quantitation, amplification) Forensic Biology/DNA Scientific Research; Technology Development; Policy or Protocol Development
Improving methods for identifying the number of contributors and mixture interpretation algorithms for all markers (STR, sequence-based STRs, Y-STRs, mitochondrial, microhaplotypes, SNPs) to include statistical considerations for combining marker types Forensic Biology/DNA Scientific Research; Policy or Protocol Development; Assessment & Evaluation
Probabilistic haplotyping tool for mixture interpretation of lineage markers (Y-STRs, mitochondrial) and/or methods by which to statistically evaluate mixture profiles (Y-STRs, mitochondrial) Forensic Biology/DNA Scientific Research; Technology Development
Better characterization of existing databases and further development of population data of forensically relevant genetic markers (SNPs, Y-STRs, X-STRs, etc.) to include populations that are currently under-represented in existing databases Forensic Biology/DNA Scientific Research; Assessment & Evaluation
Information and/or software about using multiple marker systems for identifying family relationships Forensic Biology/DNA Scientific Research; Technology Development
Increased information about the discriminatory power and sensitivity of alternate biological analyses (e.g., proteomics, microbiome, plants, animals) to associate individuals with crime scene evidence Forensic Biology/DNA Scientific Research
Increased knowledge of computational models for linking CODIS STR marker alleles to SNPs (e.g., SNP arrays used in current genealogical databases) Forensic Biology/DNA Scientific Research
Development of genetic genealogy testing procedures for use by the crime labs Forensic Biology/DNA Technology Development; Policy or Protocol Development; Assessment & Evaluation; Dissemination or Training
Comprehensive, systematic, well-controlled studies that provide both foundational knowledge and practical data about "touch evidence" DNA transfer (e.g., primary, secondary) and persistence in the real world, as well as best practices for interpretation Forensic Biology/DNA Scientific Research; Policy or Protocol Development; Assessment & Evaluation; Dissemination or Training
Information on the impacts various methods, reagents, and materials have on the recovery, repair, and/or preservation of low-quantity and/or -quality DNA from various cell types Forensic Biology/DNA Scientific Research
Assessment of limitations and/or variability of probabilistic genotyping software Forensic Biology/DNA Assessment & Evaluation
Assessment of the variability of DNA deposition on swabs including replicate swabs (e.g., vaginal swabs, wet/dry) Forensic Biology/DNA Scientific Research; Policy or Protocol Development
Methods by which to identify areas on a swab with DNA type of interest (i.e., semen) to determine how much is needed for testing prior to beginning extraction Forensic Biology/DNA Scientific Research; Policy or Protocol Development
Better understanding of how to integrate Rapid DNA into lab workflows Forensic Biology/DNA Scientific Research; Policy or Protocol Development; Assessment & Evaluation
Better ways to enrich or target genomic areas of forensic DNA interest as opposed to a traditional PCR-based approach Forensic Biology/DNA Scientific Research; Technology Development; Policy or Protocol Development
Methods to remove stutter from PCR-based STR analysis Forensic Biology/DNA Technology Development; Policy or Protocol Development
Need for error rate studies on qualitative analysis (single tests and schemes). The conclusion of such a study will also explain its limitations. Seized Drugs; Toxicology Scientific Research; Assessment & Evaluation
Research into scientifically-based acceptance criteria of analytical data generated in case samples. The effectiveness of this study could be improved if performed in conjunction with the study for error rate on qualitative analysis (single tests and schemes). Seized Drugs; Toxicology Scientific Research; Assessment & Evaluation
Need for process optimization, which may include: scene evaluation, evidence collection and handling, submission acceptance criteria, analysis, data management, and/or reporting. For example, automation of sample preparation for toxicology. Seized Drugs; Toxicology Scientific Research; Technology Development; Policy or Protocol Development; Assessment & Evaluation
Improved, broader, more representative proficiency testing to include some blind testing. Seized Drugs; Toxicology Assessment & Evaluation; Dissemination or Training
Limber, configurable, cost-effective laboratory information (data) management systems and/or add-on components/modules. Seized Drugs; Toxicology Technology Development; Policy or Protocol Development; Databases or Reference Collections
Research regarding natural cannabinoids other than delta 9-THC (delta 8, delta 6, delta 10- THC, CBV, CBG, acid versions, etc.) Seized Drugs; Toxicology Scientific Research
Evaluation of the systematic source(s) of occupational stress and its effect on work quality, forensic laboratory staff well-being, and organizational health. Seized Drugs; Toxicology Assessment & Evaluation
Access to other forensic laboratories’ methods/SOPs/validation plans. Seized Drugs; Toxicology Dissemination or Training
Continued advancement of practical forensic application/development of emerging or current instrumentation and software (e.g., microspectrophotometer, using the second derivative, thermal analysis coupled with FTIR or GC-MS, TOF/QTOF). A clear case should be made for how new technology either may do something that current technology cannot, or may be an improvement over current technology (more sensitive, faster, more cost effective, etc.) Seized Drugs; Toxicology Scientific Research; Technology Development; Assessment & Evaluation
Access to field-wide corrective action documentation for all lab operations (e.g. proficiency testing, quality control failures, personnel issues, etc.). Seized Drugs; Toxicology Assessment & Evaluation; Dissemination or Training
Research to establish validated methods for THC quantity in plant materials, edibles, extracts, etc. Seized Drugs Scientific Research
Correlating analytical findings to legal status of seized drugs. Laboratory staff are asked to render legal opinions outside of their scientific expertise. Seized Drugs Policy or Protocol Development
Need for field test for discrimination of hemp versus marijuana that is validated to industry standards. Seized Drugs Scientific Research; Assessment & Evaluation
Lack of emphasis on adequate training/development of drug chemists. Seized Drugs Policy or Protocol Development; Dissemination or Training
Difficulty identifying NPS with limited resources (instruments, financial, personnel, knowledge of/access to external resources) Seized Drugs Databases or Reference Collections
Study of interpretation of scientific report language by non-scientist stakeholders, including juries/the public. Seized Drugs Scientific Research; Assessment & Evaluation
Suggested standardized language for reports, based on data gathered from diverse agencies, to include a glossary of terms to clarify commonly misunderstood words and phrases, e.g. identification uncertainty versus misidentification, to improve written communication with stakeholders. Seized Drugs Databases or Reference Collections
Research to determine limitations of GC/MS-only schemes to correctly identify Schedule 1 and 2 drugs, to include analogs. Seized Drugs Scientific Research; Technology Development; Assessment & Evaluation
Evaluation of efficient methods of triaging cases and successful case management agreements among labs and customer stakeholders. Seized Drugs Scientific Research; Assessment & Evaluation
Identifying NPS by comparison to spectra from a different instrument rather than reference standard. Seized Drugs Scientific Research; Assessment & Evaluation
Research on the correlation of blood and oral fluid values, particularly in regards to DUID interpretation and postmortem, with an emphasis on studies pertaining to pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of drug partitioning into oral fluid. Toxicology Scientific Research
Centralized repository for seized drug and tox-related composite data/surveys (e.g. NFLIS, NAME, medical examiner/coroner survey, DEA). Toxicology Databases or Reference Collections
Challenges of implementation of high resolution mass spectrometry in the toxicology workflow. Toxicology Dissemination or Training
Better understanding of the impact of vaping both licit and illicit substances. Toxicology Scientific Research; Assessment & Evaluation
Basic pharmacology and statistics training for forensic toxicologists. Toxicology Dissemination or Training
Tools for effective communication between forensic laboratory staff and policy makers (resources, public safety, public health). Toxicology Dissemination or Training
Sufficient quantity of new pharmaceutical and emerging illicit substance reference materials (to include quantitative samples) for use in forensic labs (to include parent drugs and metabolites). Toxicology Databases or Reference Collections
Nationwide evaluation of implementation of OSAC-established minimum testing scheme policies for medical examiner/coroner offices. Toxicology Policy or Protocol Development; Assessment & Evaluation
Research to examine drug levels pre- and post-embalming to improve assessment of cause of death if toxicology is not completed prior to embalming. Toxicology Scientific Research
Prevalence of DFC drugs in actual casework from adjudicated cases. Toxicology Scientific Research
Research and data collection to gain a better understanding of the relevance of isomers of novel psychoactive substances, such as (but not limited to) synthetic opioids, cannabinoids, benzodiazepines, and substituted cathinones. Toxicology Scientific Research
Enhanced, and cost-effective, development/improvement of technologies and capabilities for visualizing and imaging evidence at the scene. Crime Scene Examination Policy or Protocol Development; Dissemination or Training
Difficulty in determining the cause and manner of death of infants and children, distingushing between natural, accidental and non-accidental - in sudden fatal events to include traumatic injury versus sudden non-traumatic causes of death, e.g. channelopathies, genetic disease, metabolic disorders, etc. Forensic Pathology Scientific Research
Enhancement of unidentified decedent system(s) with weighting capability for antemortem and postmortem comparisons with the goal of providing a ranked list of “best matches” to effectively and efficiently identify potential candidates or hits. Current human identification systems could be improved to more efficiently and effectively identify potential candidates or hits. Forensic Anthropology; Medicolegal Death Investigations Technology Development; Assessment & Evaluation; Databases or Reference Collections
Potential loss of forensic evidence due to decedent recovery, transport and handling from scene to morgue. What evidence is lost by not performing evidence recovery prior to removal from the scene? Medicolegal Death Investigations Scientific Research; Policy or Protocol Development; Assessment & Evaluation
The lack of effective biometric capture techniques and devices for the digital acquisition of decedent data. Effective technologies do exist for biometric capture for living persons, but not decedents, including decedents exhibiting various postmortem artifacts. Medicolegal Death Investigations Scientific Research; Technology Development; Assessment & Evaluation; Dissemination or Training
Difficulty in identifying geographical origin of remains. Development of novel and innovative methods and/or systems for identifying geographic region or country of origin of unidentified remains. Forensic Anthropology; Forensic Pathology; Medicolegal Death Investigations Scientific Research
Further research studies on force measurement, fracture mechanics and modeling of injuries ( to include hard tissue and soft tissue) to improve accuracy of trauma analysis and quantify error rates associated with trauma interpretation. Forensic Pathology Scientific Research
Difficulty in determining precise time since death. Studies of innovative methods or technologies to determine precise time since death. Medicolegal Death Investigations Scientific Research; Technology Development; Assessment & Evaluation
Difficulty in detecting subtle injuries (to include deep tissue bruising, tattoos and other soft tissue modifications) on bodies, both living and deceased. Forensic Pathology Policy or Protocol Development; Dissemination or Training
Advanced imaging technologies in postmortem examination are expensive, inaccessible for most agencies, and difficult to interpret and require specialized expertise. Further research into the utility of advanced imaging technologies in postmortem examination, assessing the cost-benefit of the imaging results with the financial burden of purchasing such technologies and hiring expertise required, and development of standardized protocols. Forensic Pathology Technology Development; Policy or Protocol Development; Assessment & Evaluation; Dissemination or Training
Development of a multidisciplinary statistical model, for example, likelihood ratio, for use in personal identification, based on population frequencies of traits (anthropological, friction ridge, radiological, odontological, pathological, biological, etc) to reduce subjectivity in decedent identifications. Forensic Anthropology Scientific Research
Development of novel, improved or enhanced presumptive tests (rapid, accurate and nondestructive) for evidence analysis and interpretation at the scene and in the morgue/lab. Although, presumptive tests exist, there is always an opportunity for improved, enhanced or novel tests. Crime Scene Examination; Medicolegal Death Investigations; Toxicology Scientific Research; Technology Development; Assessment & Evaluation
Further research on bone healing rates, at the macro- and micro-levels, and the quantification of healing rate differences by age and by bone element. Forensic Anthropology; Forensic Pathology Scientific Research
What are the consequences of differing levels of postmortem investigation? Is there an unknown error rate in diagnosis of cause and manner of death due to the necessity to decide field investigation vs. no-field investigation, autopsy vs. not-autopsy, external exam vs. autopsy, impact of full-body imaging, and the roles of ancillary tests (toxicology, histology, microbiology, genetic and metabolic). Forensic Pathology Scientific Research; Policy or Protocol Development; Assessment & Evaluation; Dissemination or Training
Obtaining records for human identification through dental comparison. MDI’s cannot locate dentist to obtain antemortem records for identification purposes. Forensic Anthropology; Forensic Pathology Technology Development; Policy or Protocol Development; Databases or Reference Collections
Inability to read through hypoxic artifacts and identify traumatic brain injury in pediatric patients who have been hypoxic for any period of time. Forensic Pathology Scientific Research
Difficulty in locating clandestine graves; inability to use current technology effectively. Forensic Anthropology; Medicolegal Death Investigations Scientific Research; Technology Development; Assessment & Evaluation; Dissemination or Training
There is a lack of training opportunities for practitioners, lack of resources, and difficult to retain employees to meet caseload demand within the MDI community. Forensic Anthropology; Forensic Pathology; Medicolegal Death Investigations Dissemination or Training
There is a lack of innovation and collaboration with other science disciplines outside of the medicolegal death investigation arena. Forensic Anthropology; Forensic Pathology; Medicolegal Death Investigations Scientific Research; Technology Development; Policy or Protocol Development; Assessment & Evaluation; Dissemination or Training; Databases or Reference Collections
Challenges in collection of reliable, appropriate, well-documented toxicology samples. Improved collaboration and education between sample collectors (e.g. pathologists, autopsy technicians, medicolegal death investigators, hospital phlebotomists, and organ and tissue procurement staff) and toxicologists, including training on sample taking and recording. Forensic Pathology; Toxicology; Medicolegal Death Investigations Scientific Research; Policy or Protocol Development; Dissemination or Training
Challenges in identification of human remains. More studies to improve accuracy and reliability of isotope analyses for geolocation and human remains identification. Forensic Anthropology; Forensic Pathology; Medicolegal Death Investigations Scientific Research; Databases or Reference Collections
A number of tools and calculators for forensic anthropology (e.g. ancestry and sex estimation) and crime scene investigation (e.g. blood stain pattern analysis) exist in disparate locations or non-user-friendly formats. Forensic Anthropology; Crime Scene Examination Technology Development

National Institute of Justice, "Forensic Science Research and Development Technology Working Group: Operational Requirements," December 18, 2019, nij.ojp.gov:
https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/forensic-science-research-and-development-technology-working-group-operational
Date Created: December 13, 2018