NIJ announced almost $17 million in funding to support 36 forensic science research and development projects in fiscal year 2020 under its Research and Development in Forensic Science for Criminal Justice Purposes (Forensic Science R&D) program. Through its R&D grant funding, NIJ continues to advance the speed, accuracy, and reliability of forensic analysis, which ultimately bolsters the administration of justice.
“Since the 2009 NAS report on strengthening forensic science in the U.S., NIJ has renewed its dedication to funding research that finds evidence-based solutions for forensic science professionals,” said Lucas Zarwell, director of NIJ’s Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences. “Our goal is to continue to run an efficient and comprehensive program which demonstrates long-term impact on the community we serve. There is no doubt in my mind that our ability to listen and learn as well as our relationships with other federal partners allows us to respond quickly and appropriately to find answers to emerging problems in the field.”
Funding Highlights for Fiscal Year 2020
Since 2009, NIJ has invested $255 million in its Forensic Science R&D program – its largest funding initiative – making it the global leader in the advancement of forensic science. The program spans the 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:
Awardee: Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas
Funded Amount: $683,542
When developing a biological profile during a medicolegal death investigation, forensic anthropologists estimate sex, age, ancestry, and stature. However, body mass is usually not included in the profile because there are no methods for accurately estimating body mass from skeletal remains. As the prevalence of obesity increases so will the chances of encountering obese individuals in death investigations, making body mass an important detail for matching unknown and missing persons profiles.
Awardee: Noblis, Inc., Falls Church, Virginia
Funded Amount: $1,063,335
There has not been a large-scale independent study evaluating the extent of the variation in DNA mixture (biological samples with more than one donor) analysis. This project will evaluate current methods for interpreting DNA mixtures and will expand on the results and lessons learned from studies previously conducted at Noblis.
Awardee: Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Massachusetts
This project will address the crucial need in wildland fire and arson investigation to better and more reliably pinpoint the area and point of origin. It will be the first systematic study on the reliability of fire pattern indicators. Field and laboratory experiments will be used to provide statistically representative datasets of indicator reliability, individually and in patterns.
Awardee: National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, Maryland
Funded Amount: $350,000
With the passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, forensic laboratories have been forced to designate seized cannabis samples as either legal hemp or illegal marijuana; however, most forensic laboratories lack protocols for this purpose. This project aims to provide forensic laboratories with the tools to confidently make these measurements through simple, robust, and cost-effective analytical methods.
Awardee: West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia
Funded Amount: $476,517
Forensic practitioners require standardized protocols to confidently report on inorganic gunshot residue examinations. However, the evolution of ammunition to greener alternatives and technological advances are changing gunshot residue identification and interpretation paradigms. The researchers aim to design reference standards for examinations and to compare the performance of portable benchtop residue identification devices through collaboration with industry and practitioners. Award detail page for 2020-DQ-BX-0010.
Awardee: Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
Funded Amount: $400,973
Nearly every type of criminal investigation involves some form of digital evidence. However, there are too few tools to capture and analyze digital forensics from large-scale computer networks. The Purdue team will develop an elastic version of the Toolkit for Selective Analysis & Reconstruction of Files (FileTSAR+) for the analysis and reconstruction of files from large-scale computer networks.
[note 1] National Research Council, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2009.