The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a non-regulatory federal agency dedicated to advancing measurement science, standards, and technology. NIST manages grants for technological research, works with employers and private contractors, and maintains a laboratory for in-house research in a wide variety of fields, including forensic science.
Each year, NIST holds a conference to showcase its ongoing research in forensic science. The most recent conference, Forensics@NIST 2012, featured three days of presentations on developments in DNA analysis, firearms and tool mark analysis, fire research, fingerprints, biometrics, multimedia forensics, and other techniques. The agenda, which lists all of the presentations, can be found here. The event was broadcast live on the web, and NIST recently posted videos of all the presentations on its website. The videos are short, ranging from 10 to 20 minutes each, and are mostly accessible to a lay audience.
These videos are a good resource for attorneys interested in learning about the development of new forensic techniques. NIST researchers presented research and recommendations on a variety of new techniques, including rapid DNA typing, 3D topography for matching bullets, facial recognition software, and enhancing latent fingerprints. Some of these techniques may be used by forensic practitioners in the near future.
The videos may also be useful for attorneys seeking to understand the limitations of current forensic methods. NIST’s research is geared toward improving current forensic techniques, and as such serves as commentary on the limitations of those techniques. For example, NIST researchers presented on the development of a standard for bullet and casing comparisons in firearm analysis, in part out of concern that the lack of a standardized control prevented reliable comparisons across laboratories.
Finally, some of the videos provide useful background information for attorneys looking for an overview of the forensic techniques currently in use. For example, a presentation from the first day titled “Overview of Firearms Projects” includes a short primer on the methodologies used in bullet and firearm comparison.