Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

blue background with partial bright blue fingerprint overtop

Forensic Science

Overview

NIST is working to strengthen forensic practice through research and improved standards. Our efforts involve three key components:

Science

We conduct scientific research in several forensic disciplines, including DNA, ballistics, fingerprint analysis, trace evidence, and digital, among others. We provide physical reference standards and data that help forensic laboratories validate their analytical methods and ensure accurate test results.

We also support CSAFE, a NIST Center of Excellence in Forensic Science, which is working to develop new statistical methods for use in evidence examination

Policy

We co-chaired, with the Department of Justice, the National Commission on Forensic Science, which formulated recommendations for the U.S. Attorney General on matters such as accreditation requirements for forensic science service providers.

Practice

We administer the Organization of Scientific Area Committees for Forensic Science (OSAC), which is facilitating the development of science-based standards and guidelines for a broad array of forensic disciplines.

What Is Forensic Science?

Forensic science is the use of scientific methods or expertise to investigate crimes or examine evidence that might be presented in a court of law. Forensic science comprises a diverse array of disciplines, from fingerprint and DNA analysis to anthropology and wildlife forensics. Though they represent varied disciplines, all forensic scientists face a common set of challenges. How do you ensure that forensic methods produce reliable results? How do you communicate findings to a jury or other nonexperts in a way that is accurate and understandable? How do you keep up with new technology without falling behind on casework? Meeting these and other challenges is critical to ensuring that forensic science remains a powerful force in support of justice and public safety.

Key Accomplishments

  • Forensic SRMs: NIST develops standard reference materials (SRMs) for forensic science, including the Standard Bullet and the Human DNA Quantitation Standard. By helping to ensure that forensic labs produce accurate measurements when analyzing crime scene evidence, these SRMs contribute to public safety and fairness in the criminal justice system.
  • Digital forensics: NIST’s National Software Reference Library is one of the largest publicly  known collections of computer software in the world and includes a database of millions of digital signatures from known software files. That database is a critical tool for computer forensics experts and vastly speeds up the investigation of crimes involving digital evidence.
  • Combating the opioid epidemic: Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids kill tens of thousands of Americans each year. NIST scientists have developed new tools that help police and forensic chemists save lives by detecting and identifying these drugs safely, efficiently and reliably.
  • Forensic science standards: NIST is accelerating the development and adoption of high-quality, technically sound forensic science standards by administering the Organization of Scientific Area Committees for Forensic Science (OSAC). OSAC-approved standards define minimum requirements, best practices and standard protocols that help ensure that the results of forensic analysis are reliable and reproducible.  
  • Forensic DNA: NIST played a central role in developing the forensic DNA analysis techniques that have revolutionized crime fighting and have helped convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent. Among other things, NIST scientists have enabled enhanced DNA “fingerprints.”
     

News

A dark rectangle filled with colored triangles.

NIST Publishes Review of DNA Mixture Interpretation Methods

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has published DNA Mixture Interpretation: A Scientific Foundation Review. This draft report, which will be open for public comment for 60 days before being published in final form, reviews the methods that forensic laboratories use to interpret evidence containing a mixture of DNA from two or more people. NIST is re-opening the public
A white cardboard box with blue lettering.

Forensic Science Organization to Draft Standards for Sexual Assault Examinations

Maryam Abdur-Rahman

Forensic Science Internships at NIST – A look at Cannabis Compounds

Grid shows nine different ways to write the letter E, with descriptions to the right.

Handwriting Examiners in the Digital Age

Stay in Touch

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date with the latest research, trends, and news for Forensic Science.