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Forensic Topography and Surface Metrology


Provide SI-traceable measurements and standards for ballistic and toolmark identification and surface texture and microform calibrations. Enable innovations in forensic science and manufacturing by developing and implementing state of the art optical and contact surface metrology techniques, algorithms and SRMs.

Major Deliverables:

  • SRM 2460 and 2461 standard bullets and cartridge cases.
  • SRM 2071-2075 sinusoidal profile roughness specimens.
  • NIST roughness and step height calibration system.
  • NIST 2D/3D topography measurement system.
  • NIST’s leadership in the U.S. and International Standardization in surface metrology.
  • NIST’s Surface Metrology Algorithm Testing System (SMATS).
  • A microform calibration system for Rockwell hardness diamond indenters.


Major Activity in Forensic Topography Metrology

A. Develop the next generation ballistics identification system characterized by high correlation accuracy, high correlation speed and error rate report to support firearms and toolmark identifications in the U.S.

B. Conduct the National Ballistics Imaging Comparison (NBIC) Project to develop a traceability and quality system for ballistics identifications within the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN).

  • 19 ballistics examiners from 13 U.S. crime laboratories participated.
  • Each participant performed 24 periodic image acquisitions and correlations for NIST SRM bullets and casings over the course of a year (2008-09).
  • Control charts and control limits were developed for the traceability and quality system.
  • Published the report at the Forensic Science International, Vol.216, 2012.

Major Activity in Surface and Microform Metrology

A. Surface Metrology:

  • Provide to U.S. industry world-leading calibrations of surface roughness and step heights, traceable to the SI unit of length. Industry relies on NIST for high accuracy measurements and best in the world uncertainties.
  • Participate in three surface texture/microform CIPM Key Comparisons with other National Metrology Institutes of the world. NIST surface texture calibrations are listed in Appendix C of the CIPM MRA.
  • Develop and distribute surface roughness SRMs. NIST SRMs are used by manufacturers to calibrate their systems, verify performance, and provide traceability critical to accreditation.
  • Provide standardized digital filtering and surface roughness parameter calculations to industry. The Surface Metrology Algorithm Testing System (SMATS) is a web-based software system developed to allow users to verify the accuracy of their own surface metrology software. (

B. Microform Metrology:

  • Long-term calibration reproducibility for NIST Primary Rockwell diamond indenters #3581 and #2809-101.

Figure 1. SRM 2460 standard bullets.
Figure 1. SRM 2460 standard bullets.

Major Accomplishments:


  • Develop an error rate procedure for firearm and toolmark identifications to support U.S. ballistics identifications in forensic science.
  • Complete the National Ballistics Imaging Comparison Phase 2 project (NBIC-2), develop a traceability and quality system for U.S ballistics identifications within the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN).
  • Completed the SBIR phase 1 project “Precision Random Profile Roughness Specimens” to provide U.S. manufacturers a reference standard for the quality control of smooth engineering surfaces.


  • Completed measurements and correlations for SRM 2461 Standard Cartridge Cases; 120 Cartridge Cases are scheduled for delivery in FY2012.
  • Designed and fabricated SOA Bullet and Casing Replication Rig; developed prototype SRM 2460a polymer bullets, CCFmax =  97.2 %.
  • Started SBIR subtopic “High-precision Random Profile Roughness Specimens.”


  • The ASME B46.1-2009 Standard Completed National Ballistics Imaging Comparison (NBIC) project, published the report in FSI (907871); presented an invited Special Session Talk at IAFS.
  • Designed and fabricated SOA Toolmark Creation Rig.
  • Participated in three CIPM key comparisons.


  • Led the development of ASME B46.1-2009 standard (two awards from ASME). Led ASME B46 and ISO TC 213 Working Groups.
  • Three Indenters were calibrated for the CIPM Key Comparison.
  • Principal author of International Standard on Classification of Methods for Measurement of Areal Surface Texture. This led to high participation by industry in the standardization process.

Lead Organizational Unit:


Source of Extramural Funding:

  • DOJ’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) through OLES, avg. $300k per year.
  • NIST’s Forensic Measurement Challenge (FMC) project funding 400K in 2012 and 500K in 2013.
  • Submitted two proposals for NIJ 2013 basic and applied science research project.


Industry, Markets and Applications: Surface metrology affects the function of a variety of industrial products ranging over roadways, ship hulls and propellers, automobile and aerospace components, microelectronics, and optics.

Customers: U.S. manufacturers, such as, GM, Ford, GE, Army, Navy, Air Force, Boeing, Intel, Cummins, Lockheed, Los Alamos, VEECO, Pratt and Whitney, Hughes… Collaborators include ATF and NIJ (external) Metallurgy and former SED (internal).

Why are they interested?

  • Forensic topography metrology: The Chairman of ENFSI recognized the NIST SRM bullet project as “the first step towards harmonization and laboratory assessment…”.  Science News highlighted the NIST project as “…plays an important, behind-the-scenes role in making automated bullet identification a more effective crime-fighting tool.”
  • Surface and microform metrology: A GE design engineer: “…Thanks to NIST for providing these specimens as they were invaluable for helping us to clear up surface finish measurement issues…”

Related Programs and Projects:

  • ATF
  • Oakland Police Department

Associated Products:

  • SRM 2460 standard bullets.
  • SRM 2461 standard cartridge cases.
  • SRM 2071–2075 sinusoidal profile roughness specimens.
  • NIST’s Surface Metrology Algorithm Testing System (
  • NIST 3D ballistics correlation program.
  • Automated Rockwell diamond indenter calibration program.
  • U.S. and ISO Documentary Standards: Principal authors of ASME B46.1-2009 and ISO 25178-6. Project Team Leader for 5 other published standards and balloted drafts.

Physical Measurement Laboratory (PML)
Semiconductor & Dimensional Metrology Division (683)

General Information:
301-975-5609 Telephone
301-869-0822 Facsimile

100 Bureau Drive, M/S 8212
Gaithersburg, Maryland 20899-8212