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Forensic Science Research and Development


Through its funding of forensic science research and development, NIJ continues to advance the speed, accuracy, and scope of forensic analysis, which ultimately bolsters the administration of justice. NIJ affirms that scientific advancements and technological breakthroughs are essential to the continued growth and strengthening of the forensic sciences.  

Under this portfolio, NIJ builds and maintains the forensic science research infrastructure. NIJ's research and development funding enhances the development of (1) physical capital by supporting the acquisition, maintenance, and development of laboratory instrumentation; (2) intellectual capital by supporting researchers and providing learning and training experiences for scientists at all career stages; and (3) structural capital by funding projects that support databases and add to the scientific literature.

Funded Research and Development Projects 

View a list of all forensic science research and development projects; or by discipline:

See also NIJ's program for Research and Evaluation in Publicly Funded Forensic Laboratories

Illustrating the Importance of Forensic Science Research and Development
DisciplineThe IssueWhy Research?
Pattern and Impression Evidence: Quantifying “qualitative” comparisonsForensic analysis of impression and pattern evidence (e.g., latent fingerprints, firearms, shoe prints, blood patterns) has traditionally depended on qualitative comparisons by experienced examiners.To develop quantitative methods that address accuracy, reliability and validity; to ensure that these methods have solid scientific foundations; to minimize potential sources of human examiner bias; and to aid in estimating the statistical evidentiary value of forensic comparisons.
Forensic DNA Analysis: Keeping up with technological advancesAs new scientific methods and technologies advance in other fields, NIJ must monitor their potential use for investigative and forensic purposes.To ensure that each method or technology has a strong scientific foundation, to rigorously test the method or technology to determine sensitivity and limits of the procedure, to identify potential artifacts and stochastic effects and to determine the limits of interpretation.
Controlled substances and toxicology: Identifying new drugsNovel psychoactive substances (e.g., synthetic cathinones, cannabinoid, opiates), commonly known as designer drugs, are often difficult to identify.To generate knowledge of new substances of abuse and to develop methods to detect and accurately identify these substances, both in their street form and in biological samples.
Determining cause of deathThe cause and manner (circumstances surrounding a death, whether natural, accident, homicide or suicide) of death can be difficult to determine, particularly in cases of sudden infant death.To strengthen and develop methods to determine manner of death and interpret evidence of foul play; to develop approaches to quantitatively assess accident versus malicious intent; to identify genetic markers in sudden, unexplained deaths that may lead to a natural fatal event; and to adopt and improve imaging technologies (e.g., CT, MRI) for use in determination of the cause and manner of death.
Date Created: October 21, 2019