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Forensics@NIST2018 

Welcome everyone.

I’m delighted to be here for our 5th Forensics@NIST symposium.  Over the next two days you are in for what I hope will be an intellectual treat. I understand we have 30 speakers lined up to describe their current research on all things forensic science.  You will be hearing about NIST’s and our research partners’ latest results on everything from biometrics to opiod chemistry to toolmark analysis.

The NIST Forensic Science Research Program is unique in the breadth of research topics we cover, so it’s great to get a chance to see everything under one tent so to speak at this event. I have always been a fan of the NIST forensic program because of what it represents.  I say often that NIST’s mission of measurements is important to everything. 

But we can’t do everything.  So such a broadly collaborative and cooperative effort like forensics is a poster child for NIST working with experts to accomplish great things.

Many of the topics presented here are also under study by the NIST Forensic Science Center of Excellence lead by the University of Iowa, officially called the Center for Statistical Analysis of Forensic Evidence or CSAFE.

In addition, NIST has a number of deep collaborations with academic institutions; federal, state and local government agencies; and legal professional organizations. These partnerships with experts, practitioners, and thought leaders help ensure broad dissemination and validation of our joint forensic science advances both here in the U.S. and globally. They allow us to do what we cannot do alone.

If you are new to NIST, you may be wondering why this symposium is out here in the Maryland suburbs, instead of in downtown D.C. at the Department of Justice. The answer for that goes back to what we call the NIST “creation story.” 

NIST is one of the oldest scientific agencies in the federal government. We were established by the U.S. Congress in 1901 to ensure U.S. manufacturers could better compete with Europe with better measurement technologies. Eight different “standard” gallons. Brooklyn, N.Y., alone had more than four different legal measurements for a foot. The idea was to help industry adopt national standards so that they could make more accurate measurements and, in the process, enable higher quality, more innovative products. 

The scientific community that advocated in the early 1900s on behalf of NIST, or the National Bureau of Standards as it was called then, could have no clue how successful their efforts would be. Health-care, transportation, communications, computing, the internet — all of the revolutionary new technologies of the 20th and 21st centuries have either been directly enabled or received a boost from NIST measurement research, standards and services.  

Which brings us to today. NIST continues to be a world leader in measurement science.  

In fact, I will personally have the honor just a little over a week from now of helping to lead a U.S. delegation with our NIST Director Walter Copan to an historic event in Versailles, France. On November 16, at the international General Conference on Weights and Measures, we will join more than 50 other nations in voting to redefine the kilogram, the ampere, the kelvin, and mole

Why is this important for forensic science you may ask?

It’s important for all of science because it marks what a colleague of mine here at NIST has called “a turning point for humanity.” For the first time ever, we will have a measurement system that is equally accessible to anyone, anywhere. Instead of measuring things against physical artifacts like a kilogram mass, the redefinitions tie all measurement units to fundamental constants.  Things like the speed of light, electromagnetic phenomena like Planck’s constant, or the unchanging oscillations of specific atoms. 

It’s too soon to say exactly what the true impact on science will be.  But perhaps its most immediate impact will be a demonstration of the entire human race working together toward a singular beneficial goal.

The SI was born out of the French Revolution with its philosophy of equality, equity, and fairness.

I think forensic science is one of those technical areas that benefits humanity across the board, and I am thrilled to see all of you coming together for that purpose under that banner.

The contrast of this near-term reality where we probe the secrets of nature to do our measurements, with what was happening in the 1920’s when NIST first started to dabble in forensic science is truly amazing. If you’ve attended this symposium before you have likely heard us brag about the NIST physicist who might be called the father of federal forensic science. Between 1929 and 1954, a NIST researcher named Wilmer Souder worked on 838 cases and in process pioneered many forensic science methods we still use today. He was even instrumental in setting up the FBI’s first crime lab. If you’d like to learn more about him, I urge you to visit the NIST YouTube channel and watch our Emmy-award winning documentary about his work

By the time this symposium is complete, and you hear from our many current forensic science experts.  I hope you will agree that the same kind of dedication shown by Souder continues here at NIST today. 

Due to time constraints, we won’t have talks about all our forensic science research efforts. But this afternoon during the poster session, you will be able to learn about a wider array of important research. 

We must do everything we can to ensure there are quantitative, reliable, and validated forensic scientific tools for our nation’s dedicated law enforcement agencies and for the fair administration of justice throughout our court system. I cannot think of a nobler calling.

Before I turn the podium back to Robert, I just want to thank you for your attendance today. Yesterday was election day.  It’s a good time to reflect on where we’ve been since 2010 when we started this Forensics@NIST event and where we want to go with forensic science. Outreach is a critical part of our forensic science program and your attendance helps us stay in touch with the needs in forensic practice and helps ensure we’re helping to solve world’s real problems. Your forensic science and practice work will help determine the quality of our nation’s justice system.  It is an essential mission that NIST is honored to support. 

We hope you enjoy the presentations and return to your work with renewed commitment and insights. 

Created November 10, 2018