On September 2, 2020, NIJ and the National Science Foundation (NSF) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that extends the agencies’ formal collaboration through 2025. The new MOU supports the advancement of fundamental scientific knowledge and the translation of cutting-edge science and technology to improve public safety and the administration of justice. This agreement follows a similar agreement from 2012 between the two agencies.
“Through this relationship, NIJ and NSF can improve efforts at both our agencies to inform the future of forensics,” said Lucas Zarwell, director of NIJ’s Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences. “This MOU is a great example of how NIJ can coordinate with other federal agencies to produce research that impacts the criminal justice community.”
With this new agreement, the agencies will maintain support of existing forensic science research projects and explore new educational opportunities for students to apply fundamental science in real-world settings.
Scope of the New Agreement
The MOU defines a framework for interagency collaboration to evaluate and support activities relevant to criminal justice in the United States and to promote fiscal efficiency by preventing duplicate efforts. Through the collaboration outlined in the MOU, NIJ and NSF aim to:
- Foster interagency activities and exchange of ideas.
- Identify cutting-edge areas of research.
- Co-fund proposals.
- Support educational experiences.
The Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences serves as the primary NSF directorate participating in the MOU, but other NSF directorates will be encouraged to collaborate with NIJ.
“As they have in the past, NIJ and NSF continue to make lives better through advancing fundamental research that provides critical insights into crime and justice,” noted Arthur Lupia, assistant director of NSF’s Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences.
A History of Successful Collaborations
Since 2012, NIJ and NSF have partnered on workshops, events, and research programs through interagency agreements and Dear Colleague Letters.
In a 2014 Dear Colleague Letter, NSF and NIJ cosponsored a call for proposals to establish an industry/university cooperative research center for forensic science. The resulting Center for Advanced Research in Forensic Science (CARFS) brings together industrial partners and forensic science laboratories with academic researchers to develop, implement, and commercialize tools to advance forensic science research in the United States. The center has produced a portfolio of research advances across forensic chemistry, digital forensics, and other forensic disciplines.
“Since its founding four years ago, CARFS has funded more than 40 research projects at five universities providing seed funding to academic researchers and students,” said CARFS Director Jose Almirall. “The renewed MOU can further accelerate research from ideation to commercial use.”
The NIJ-NSF collaboration also cosponsored the Northwestern University project “DNA Examiners: Judgement and Influence” in 2014. University researchers investigated how DNA examiners’ decisions to test forensic evidence could be influenced by nonforensic contextual clues, such as comments made by police investigators, and how mock jurors’ judgments and decisions about a case are affected by DNA examiners’ arguments.
NIJ serves as the national focal point for forensic science research, development, and evaluation for state and local laboratories. NSF is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 that supports basic research across the sciences and aims to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; and to secure the national defense.
“Although the missions of NIJ and NSF differ, we continue to identify societally important research in forensic science and criminal justice that can be advanced by leveraging the strengths of both agencies,” noted Rebecca Ferrell, program director for NSF’s biological anthropology program and CARFS program officer.