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What We Do

Forensic science can be a powerful force in support of justice and public safety. But when used inappropriately, forensic science can lead to innocent people being wrongfully convicted and criminals remaining free to commit more crimes.

Fortunately, forensic practice can be strengthened through scientific research and improved standards. 

What is NIST’s role?

Forensic science requires accurate measurement and reliable standards. These are things that NIST is famous for, and we have been involved in forensic science research for decades.

NIST became more deeply involved following a 2009 report from the National Academy of Sciences that urgently called for a strengthening of forensic science practices in the United States. To answer that call, NIST is leading an effort that brings together experts from the forensic science, research, legal, and law enforcement communities. This work involves three key components:

Science: We conduct scientific research in several forensic disciplines, including DNA, ballistics, fingerprint analysis, trace evidence, digital evidence, and more.

Policy: We co-lead, with the Department of Justice, the National Commission on Forensic Science, which is formulating policy 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, which is facilitating the development of science-based standards and guidelines for a broad array of forensic disciplines.

We also provide physical reference standards and data that help forensic laboratories validate their analytical methods and ensure accuracy in their test results.

Created August 23, 2013, Updated April 5, 2022