Laboratories Learn About Accuracy of Forensic Software Tools through NIST Study

hand holding mobile phone showing multiple apps

In a new article, NIST researcher Jenise Reyes-Rodriquez shares an inside look at her work testing mobile forensic software tools. She and her team explore the validity of different methods for extracting data from mobile devices, even from damaged phones. Researchers subject a wide array of digital forensic tools to rigorous and systematic evaluation, determining how accurately it retrieves crucial information from the device.

She explains that unlike what you might see on television, forensic labs are often working with limited budgets and may not have access to multiple tools. They typically need to work with what they already have or can afford. Reyes-Rodriquez and her research team test these mobile tools on the most popular devices on the market and create reports for labs listing any anomalies such as incomplete text messages or contact names. These reports help labs know if the tool they have is appropriate to use in their case, and provides a guide on alternative options or an ideal tool to buy.

This research was funded by NIST and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cyber Forensics Project. Read the full story on the NIST website, and learn more about the research group’s work on the CFTT website. Here you can also access NIST’s testing methodology and forensic tool testing reports.

NIST and Noblis Seek Participants for Bullet Black Box Study

Are you a US firearms examiner who has conducted operational casework in the past year? NIST and Noblis are seeking participants for a bullet black-box study to evaluate the accuracy, repeatability, and reproducibility of bullet comparisons by firearms examiners.

Study Overview

Participants will conduct 100 comparisons over a period of approximately 6-7months. The test will be conducted by sending the physical samples to the participants in 10 packets, each of which contains 10 bullet sets for comparison. The test samples will be a range of bullets that will be collected under ground-truth controlled conditions, attempting to be as broadly representative of casework as practical. Firearms, calibers, and ammunition frequently encountered in casework will be used. Custom web-based software will be used to record examiner responses, and transmit responses back to the test administrators.

Interested in participating? Email Additional details can be found on the NIST flyer.

Now Available Online: NIJ Forensic Science Research and Development Symposium

NIJ Forensic Science Research and Devlopment Symposium

Did you miss the 2020 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Forensic Science Research and Development Symposium at the AAFS Annual Meeting? You can now watch the program online. In this session, NIJ brings together practitioners and researchers to work towards moving research from theory to practice.

The NIJ Forensic Science R&D Program funds both basic and applied research projects to:

(1) Increase the body of knowledge to guide and inform forensic science policy and practice

(2) Result in the production of useful materials, devices, systems, or methods that have the potential for forensic application.

Watch the symposium or review the proceedings to learn more about new forensic science approaches and applications and how the community can work together to elevate the status of forensic science.

NIST Releases New Report on Human Factors’ Role in Handwriting Evaluation

pen and handwritten text

All human activities carry a risk of error, and handwriting examination is no exception. To reduce errors in this field, NIST convened the Expert Working Group for Human Factors in Handwriting Examination. This expert panel sponsored by NIJ and NIST examined strategies to improve handwriting evaluation methods and outline best practices.

The Group produced a new report, Forensic Handwriting Examination and Human Factors: Improving the Practice Through a Systems Approach. The document takes a closer look at how human factors impact all aspects of handwriting examination, from documenting discriminating features, reporting results and testifying in court. 

In the report, you’ll also find a discussion of education, training, certification, and the role of quality assurance, quality control, and management in reducing errors.

CSAFE Resources for Improving Handwriting Evaluation 

CSAFE researchers are also working to improve objectivity and reduce errors in handwriting analysis. Our work aims to rigorously assess the role of complexity in signature analysis and relate complexity to examiner performance. We are also developing open-source software and publicly available statistical algorithms for writing comparison to help handwriting examiners integrate quantitative approaches in their work.

Handwriting Database

The CSAFE Handwriting Database is an interactive, public database designed for the development of statistical approaches to forensic handwriting evaluations.  


CSAFE automatic matching algorithms provide objective and reproducible scores as a foundation for a fair judicial process. This R package utilizes a variety of functions to identify letters and features from handwritten documents.


Tips for Students Pursuing Careers in Forensic Science

The exciting role of forensic scientist combines the power of observation, inference and research-based analysis to fight crime. From identifying the time of death to taking a closer look at fingerprints found at the scene, these scientists play an essential role in forensic examinations and linking suspects to specific evidence. 

The expert training and education of different types of forensic scientists is key to the investigation process and trial proceedings. Are you interested in joining the field? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates jobs for forensic scientists will grow at twice the anticipated rate for other occupations, with a 17 percent increase between 2016 and 2026.  

Tips on Preparing to Become a Forensic Scientist

A forensic science job requires a minimum of a four-year bachelor’s degree in a field such as biology, chemistry or forensic science. Professionals recommend students seek out the following educational experiences to prepare for futures as a forensic investigator. 

  •     Search for a program with a strong academic core in natural sciences and math like biochemistry, toxicology, analytical chemistry and instrumental analysis. 
  • Obtain a thorough grounding in laboratory procedures and the use of scientific instruments. 
  • Build technical skills by taking courses in criminal justice, evidence handling and ethics.
  • Get acquainted with the criminal justice system and its processes through courses in criminology.
  • Develop strong written and oral communication skills to improve dialogue with law enforcement or explain findings to a judge and jury.
  • Seek out opportunities to gain additional hands-on experience through forensic science-related internships.

A Sneak Peek at an Advanced Degree

Students interested in jobs such as laboratory directors, professors or a specialist role can pursue advanced degrees. During a graduate program, you can choose a specialty such as ballistics, digital evidence or toxicology. In addition to classwork, master’s and Ph.D. students develop advanced skills in the laboratory. 

A Look at Continuing Education and Certifications

Education for the forensic scientist continues after the job begins with additional employer training. Certifications in various specialties such as blood pattern analysis, forensic photography and latent print analysis are available from organizations such as the International Association for Identification.

Impacting Society With A Career In Forensics

CSAFE offers students interested in pursuing forensic science careers the opportunity to discover how statistics apply to forensic evidence analysis. Learn more about our hands-on experiences for graduate and undergraduate students on our Forensic Education page and see how one student’s CSAFE research is preparing him for his dream job of DNA analyst.

Forensic science is a rigorous and demanding subject, but students committed to academic work and practical experience can stand out amongst other job applicants. Students can look forward to a gratifying career that contributes to the fair administration of justice.


First Interdisciplinary Training Standard Approved by OSAC

OSAC Registry Ribbon

The Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) for Forensic Science registry of approved standards now includes its first interdisciplinary training standard. This new standard provides guidelines to help laboratories ensure their team stays up-to-date on the latest forensic science methods and best practices. 


According to OSAC, ASTM E2917-19a Standard Practice for Forensic Science Practitioner Training, Continuing Education, and Professional Development Programs outlines what essential knowledge, skills and abilities laboratory training programs should address. Previously, these types of standards existed only in DNA and seized drug analysis disciplines. The standard also specifies continuing education requirements for forensic science professionals. 


OSAC Registry standards define minimum requirements, best practices, scientific protocols and other guidance to help ensure that the results of forensic analysis are reliable and reproducible.


Access Details:

OSAC, through the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has entered into a contract with ASTM International that gives 30,000 public criminal justice agencies free access to standards published under ASTM Technical Committee E30 on Forensic Science. To access these standards, click the green “ASTM Standards Access” button on OSAC’s Access to Standards webpage to enter the ASTM Compass website.

What Do Forensic Laboratories Need to Succeed? A DOJ Needs Assessment Explains

examiner analyzing a shoe

How can organizations like CSAFE and the federal government help forensic laboratories succeed? What would be most beneficial as they seek to address the needs of the field?

The National Institute of Justice recently released a report to Congress asking these questions and more as they examined the interconnected relationship between forensic laboratories and the criminal justice system. The report details the results of a national needs assessment of forensic science service providers conducted in 2017-2018.

From the report:

“Forensic laboratories and ME/C (medical examiner/coroner’s) offices are constantly working to address the needs of the field, balancing operational priorities to meet stakeholder requests while introducing innovative solutions to solve emerging criminal justice questions. This needs assessment compiled demonstrative evidence of how the field is adapting to advancements in technology, the volume and types of forensic evidence, and the evolving needs of the justice system.”

The report outlines key needs in a variety of areas, such as sufficient funding and strategic planning to process increasing amounts of forensic evidence and continued efforts to strengthen quality assurance measures. The report also highlights challenges and promising practices, as well as addresses special topics. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences responded positively to this effort, and thanks Congress for its long-time support of forensic science.

Review the full report to learn more, and discover other ways the Department of Justice works to improve forensic science on their website.

NIST Ballistics Teams Preserves Kennedy Assassination Bullets

The NIST ballistics team recently undertook a unique project with great historical significance. Researchers created digital replicas of the bullet that fatally wounded beloved President John F. Kennedy using a 3D surface scanning microscope.

In partnership with the National Archives, NIST work will provide public access to these important artifacts while ensuring the originals remain safely preserved. For NIST, this project was simply about historic preservation. But now, anyone can perform forensic analysis of the bullet without risking damage to the original.

In a NIST article published on December 5, 2019, NIST explains the details.

“In the lab, the NIST ballistics team used a technique called focus variation microscopy to image the artifacts. At each location along the object’s surface, the microscope created a series of images at different focal distances. By analyzing which parts of those images were in focus, the microscope measured the distance to the object’s surface features. As the lens moved across the object, it built a 3D surface map of the microscopic landscape beneath it, like a satellite mapping a mountain range.”

While this was a special project, NIST researchers do spend significant time imaging bullets in their day-to-day work. Historically, forensic examiners match bullets by viewing them under a comparison microscope. They examine striations on a pair of bullets or microscopic photographs of those bullets to determine a match. The NIST ballistics team is working to provide greater detail and accuracy than 2D methods by using 3D surface maps.

It’s also developing methods so that, instead of just saying whether or not two bullets appear to match, forensic examiners will be able to statistically quantify their degree of similarity. CSAFE partners with NIST in this effort, conducting research to develop new and improved scientific methods for firearms and tool mark analysis.

Read more about the Kennedy bullet on the NIST website, and learn more about CSAFE advancements in bullet technology in our news section. We also invite you to visit our tools page and data portal, where you can find helpful resources to implement in your forensic analysis work.

Texas Forensic Science Commission Advises Implementation of OSAC Registry Standards for Crime Laboratories

In a unanimous October 2019 decision, the Texas Forensic Science Commission recommended that all crime laboratories accredited to perform forensic analysis in the State of Texas voluntarily adopt the Organization of Scientific Area Committees for Forensic Science (OSAC) standards for forensic science. The Commission is the first regulatory body in the United States to recommend the implementation of these standards.

OSAC standards found on the OSAC Registry describe best practices, explain scientific protocols and define minimum requirements for the field. Each standard aims to ensure the reliability and reproducibility of forensic analysis results.

CSAFE partner Houston Forensic Science Center has already announced the laboratory will adopt these standards. CEO and President Peter Stout states that his team continuously seeks to improve the services provided to the community, and adopting these standards is the next step in the process.

NIST created OSAC in 2014 in partnership with the Department of Justice. The organization is comprised of roughly 560 members with expertise in 25 forensic disciplines, in addition to general expertise in scientific research, measurement science, statistics, law, and policy. At this time, 12 standards are available on the OSAC Registry, with more than 200 in development.

Could Your Lab Benefit from Standardized Latent Print Examination? OSAC Process Maps Provides Insight

fingerprints and eyeglass

How does your latent print examination process compare to other laboratories? OSAC released a newly revised process map of friction ridge examination that could provide valuable insight.

Use this illustration of conventional processes to identify areas for improvements and discover where standards could benefit your program.

Are you interested in learning more about the steps of fingerprint examination? This tool walks readers through the process known as ACE-V:

  • Analysis
  • Comparison
  • Evaluation
  • Verification

The OSAC process map serves as a baseline for the complexity of fingerprint examinations and is a tool for implementing standardized protocol across the nation.

Learn more from NIST news.