Forensic Sciences

On this page find:

What Is Forensic Science?

Forensic science is the application of sciences such as physics, chemistry, biology, computer science and engineering to matters of law. Forensic science can help investigators understand how blood spatter patterns occur (physics), learn the composition and source of evidence such as drugs and trace materials (chemistry) or determine the identity of an unknown suspect (biology).

Forensic science plays a vital role in the criminal justice system by providing scientifically based information through the analysis of physical evidence. During an investigation, evidence is collected at a crime scene or from a person, analyzed in a crime laboratory and then the results presented in court. Each crime scene is unique, and each case presents its own challenges.

NIJ’s Forensic Science Research and Development Portfolio

NIJ supports research and develop in the following forensic science disciplines:

NIJ’s forensic science research and development program focuses on basic and applied scientific research with the intent to:

  • Direct the findings of basic scientific research in broader scientific fields applicable to forensic science.
  • Apply forensic science research to the development of highly discriminating, accurate, reliable, cost-effective, rapid methods for the identification, analysis and interpretation of physical evidence.
  • Expand the scientific basis of forensic methods.
  • Produce useful materials, devices, systems or methods that have the potential for forensic application.
  • Increase the body of knowledge to guide and inform forensic science policy and practice.

Expand the text below to see examples of scientific issues addressed by forensic science research and development.

Pattern and Impression Evidence: Quantifying “qualitative” comparisons [Read more...]

The issue: Forensic analysis of impression and pattern evidence (e.g., latent fingerprints, firearms, shoe prints, blood patterns) has traditionally depended on qualitative comparisons by experienced examiners.
Why research is necessary: 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 advances [Read more...]

The issue: As new scientific methods and technologies advance in other fields, NIJ must monitor their potential use for investigative and forensic purposes.
Why research is necessary: 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 drugs [Read more...]

The issue: Novel psychoactive substances (e.g., synthetic cathinones, cannabinoid, opiates), commonly known as designer drugs, are often difficult to identify.
Why research is necessary: 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.

Forensic Pathology: Determining cause of death [Read more...]

The issue: The 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.
Why research is necessary: 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.

Forensic Science Pages

Forensic science topics on the NIJ website are divided into main categories and subtopics within each category. Use our topics tree to drill down into each topic and subtopic. See also our law enforcement investigation pages​ for related topics.

Date Modified: April 23, 2019