Printer Friendly


Criminals have become more sophisticated, while crime grows increasingly complex. Research and development lie at the heart of the FBI's ability to function in this environment. By developing new techniques and using emerging technology, the FBI Laboratory helps law enforcement agencies worldwide solve crimes that might otherwise remain unsolved. This section describes the work the Laboratory is doing to enhance its capabilities.

Counterterrorism and Forensic Science Research Unit

The Counterterrorism and Forensic Science Research Unit (CFSRU) researches, develops, and delivers new technologies and methodologies to advance forensic science and combat terrorism. In order to successfully meet the ever-increasing technical complexity posed by the war on terror and the global scope of research and development projects, CFSRU scientists have initiated cooperative studies with scientists at other government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Energy. For example, the Microbial Rosetta Stone Database, first developed under a contract monitored by CFSRU scientists, has been expanded for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in evaluating microbial threats to the nation's food supply. Scientists at CFSRU recently completed a five-year cooperative study with several international crime laboratories under the umbrella of the European Union to develop and test protocols for the use of element and isotope patterns to provide source information on human hair, nail, and bone; adhesive tapes; sugar; steels; and bullet lead used in international crimes, such as terrorism, organized criminal activities, and environmental crimes.

Through the Visiting Scientist and Research Partnership Programs administered by CFSRU, as well as outsourced and internal projects, unit personnel executed more than 100 projects in 2005.

Automation of Nuclear DNA Analysis

Automated liquid-handling workstations have been customized to perform processes for short tandem repeat (STR) genotyping. These processes include extracting DNA from various substrates, setting up real-time polymerase chain reactions (PCRs) for quantification of human DNA, diluting DNA extracts to working concentrations, setting up reactions for amplification of the STR loci, and preparing STR amplification products for analysis using capillary electrophoresis. Six liquid-handling instruments have been installed within the DNA Analysis Unit I, and verification and validation studies are currently under way.

Three-Dimensional Imaging of Toolmarks

An automated method of comparing toolmarks using three-dimensional images obtained by confocal optical microscopy has been developed under external contract and is ready for evaluation by personnel in the Laboratory's Firearms-Toolmarks Unit. A statistical study of the degree of individualization of toolmarks by this technique has been completed.

Noninvasive Latent Fingerprint Development and Chemical Identification of Trace Evidence Within Prints

Spectral imaging is recent technology that uses spectral responses plotted over an area to produce images. With infrared spectroscopy, the Laboratory can produce images in the infrared region using mercury cadmium telluride (MCT) array detectors, similar to the charge-coupled device detectors used in digital photography. Because chemical information is obtained from the infrared spectra, pictures are produced based on the chemical composition. With the application of reflection analysis, the Laboratory has produced images of latent fingerprints deposited on aluminum, glass, black plastic bags, duct tape (both backing and adhesive), manila envelopes, copy paper, dollar bills, and other materials. Additionally, trace evidence such as explosives, drugs, and fibers has been identified from within the friction ridge deposits. Fingerprint images shown in Figures 1A and 1B were produced as composite images of the deposited materials' major chemical components. The blue ridge patterns are composed predominantly of oils (represented by the peak at 2,929 cm-1). The green spots are protein materials from skin particles (measured at 3,240 cm-1). The responses plotted as red spots (measured at 3,072 cm-1) are a contaminant arising from RDX explosive wedged between the ridges. Complete infrared spectra are shown in Figure 1C, with the colors of the spectra corresponding to the image colors. Information provided by both the fingerprint image and the ability to identify RDX explosive could further link a subject to a crime. This capability demonstrates the power of chemical imaging in forensic analysis. The work has been conducted in collaboration with scientists from the National Institutes of Health, where spectral imaging is being developed to identify medical problems in human subjects. One of the most significant advantages is that these data are obtained noninvasively. Medical subjects and forensic evidence are not altered in any way. CFSRU scientists are developing a portable imaging instrument so that this technology can be brought to the crime scene.


Research Partnership Program

The Research Partnership Program, which CFSRU coordinates, is an effort by the FBI Laboratory to improve forensic science through active collaboration with scientists in state and local forensic laboratories. The program funds research and development projects and database building. These projects leverage the experience of state and local forensic examiners for research purposes in disciplines that typically require extensive examiner training and experience to interpret results.

The primary goals of the program are:

* To enhance the development and transfer of new forensic technologies and procedures to caseworking examiners in state and local forensic laboratories by collaborative research and development, testing, and validation studies.

* To facilitate the implementation of protocols defined by scientific working groups.

* To catalyze the development of national forensic databases.

In 2005 CFSRU hosted two Research Partnership workshops:

* Permanence of Friction Ridge Skin Detail--Permanence is one of the fundamental principles of the friction ridge discipline that permit identification. Although permanence is supported by the biological sciences, it has yet to be studied empirically by comparing fingerprints over time. Five research partners compared friction ridge detail on prints recorded using ink, photography, and digital imaging.

* Automotive Carpet Fiber Database--Automotive carpet fibers are frequently found in abduction and homicide cases when victims were transported in vehicles. The FBI Laboratory's Trace Evidence Unit can determine the make, model, and year of vehicles on the basis of physical-, optical-, and chemical-information searches in the Automotive Carpet Fiber Database. Research partners began reviewing and compiling database elements on automotive carpet fibers. Extensive data-field enhancements were also reflected in the database utility. Contributions from state and local forensic laboratories will permit the database to be updated and maintained for continuing effectiveness as an investigative tool.

A Research Partnership Program update was held on August 16, 2005, in conjunction with the annual Crime Laboratory Development Symposium at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The update featured eight technical presentations by CFSRU personnel covering the biological, chemical, and physical sciences. During the symposium, CFSRU hosted a poster session featuring 36 posters highlighting current research projects.

Visiting Scientist Program

The goal of the Visiting Scientist Program is to enhance the research and development capabilities of the CFSRU by providing highly qualified scientists from outside institutions to complement staff scientists and assist in performing duties consistent with the mission and needs of the unit. The Visiting Scientist Program provides a direct connection between the FBI Laboratory and academia. Through the program, university students, postgraduates, and faculty enhance their education by participating in forensic research initiatives using state-of-the-art equipment in the CFSRU laboratories. Participants are afforded unique work experience that offers professional development and increases their research contribution in their chosen field of study within the realm of forensics.

Experienced staff scientists guide the Visiting Scientists' research by serving as mentors. Each Visiting Scientist is assigned one or two projects focused on meeting the needs of the operational units. Program participants may spend from three months to three years working in the laboratories in Quantico. At the end of their tenure, they are required to submit detailed reports or technical papers for publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Applications for the Visiting Scientist Program are accepted at

In 2005 program funding allowed the FBI to offer this opportunity to 48 Visiting Scientists representing 37 academic institutions. During 2005, Visiting Scientists were actively involved in 34 research projects, contributed to the publication of 13 manuscripts, and were involved in 63 scientific presentations. In addition, Visiting Scientists participated in 18 specialized scientific training opportunities.

The following represent examples from among the 34 research projects involving contributions from Visiting Scientists in 2005.

Phenotypic Characterization of Microbes of Interest

Working together, biologists and chemists have discovered the potential for using fatty-acid methyl ester (FAME) analysis for the characterization of bacteria of the Bacillus group as to their genetic strain and growth conditions. Standardized methods have been established to obtain consistent FAME profiles for each bacterium. These conditions will be used to test which of the many variables that constitute growth conditions affect variations in the bacterial FAME profiles.

Cocaine-N-Oxide Detection in Hair

A method was developed to detect the presence of the endogenous cocaine metabolite cocaine-n-oxide in hair. Preliminary studies show that this metabolite is present in a hair sample from a deceased known cocaine abuser.

Creation of a New FBI Facial Identification Catalog

Following biometric studies on facial features of individuals in the current catalog to validate the selected categories, approximately 40,000 photographs were sorted by ethnicity and traits. Sixteen or more photos were selected for each ethnic group for each facial-feature page. Mock-up catalog introductory pages were created and submitted to the Laboratory's Investigative and Prosecutive Graphic Unit, along with the sorted images for the production of the new catalog. A lecture was recorded on video to document the biometric studies and explain the relevance of the greatly enhanced sections of the new catalog.

Validation of RE/FACE Software

The beta version of this facial reconstruction software program was delivered under contract. Skulls with accompanying photographs of the person when alive, obtained from the University of Tennessee Donated Collection, are being used to test the software. Defects in the software have been corrected, and further enhancements are in progress.

Laboratory Instrument Automation

In 2005 the Chemistry Unit began acquiring new multipurpose robotic autosamplers that are interfaced with gas chromatograph-mass spectrometers to enhance the speed of analysis and eliminate manual sample preparation. Because sample preparation is very labor-intensive and repetitive, automation of these processes will improve the precision and accuracy of the results while eliminating user errors.

The autosamplers are available in two different configurations: single-rail and dual-rail prep stations. Several accessories can be added to a system to work in unison to complete multistep sample preparation. The dual-rail system is designed to complete more complex experimentation than the single-rail system.

The dual-rail prep station is fully programmable to perform automated sample preparation and sample introduction into the gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer. One rail of the prep station is an automated liquid-sample handler that performs a wide range of sample-preparation functions, including standard addition, spiking and rinsing, and dilution.

Depending on the selected hardware configuration, the second rail enables many automated sample-introduction options, including headspace sampling, solid-phase microextraction, and standard liquid and large-volume injection.

With the acquisition of two of these systems, the Chemistry Unit quickly recognized results in the validation of the analysis of alcohol in blood and urine. The systems are being used to support the Toxicology and General Chemistry Subunits as well as the Explosives Unit for a variety of analyses, including alcohol in blood and urine, gamma-hydroxybutyrate, cyanide, volatiles, and arson.

Overall, these systems are worthy and necessary acquisitions for a laboratory that wants to stay current with changing technology and improve the quality of the results provided to its clients.

AccuTOF-DART Technology

In May 2005 the Chemistry Unit began using what is considered a breakthrough in mass spectrometer sample introduction: the DART ion source. DART, which stands for "Direct Analysis in Real Time," is an atmospheric pressure source capable of ionizing liquid, solid, and gas samples in real time. The principle is based on an atmospheric pressure interaction of a sample with long-lived electronic excited-state atoms or molecules and atmospheric gases. The system uses helium or nitrogen to produce metastable atoms or molecules that interact with the analytes.

What does this all mean in terms of forensic chemical analysis? Coupling the DART source to the AccuTOF time-of-flight mass spectrometer lends to the analysis of samples with no preparation or extraction and provides data with accurate mass measurement. A complete analysis can be completed within minutes by simply holding a sample in the open gas stream. A basic DART analysis of a liquid or solid is performed by touching the end of a glass rod to a sample or adding a few microliters of sample solution to the tip of the rod and placing the material in the stream of gas on the DART source.

Since acquiring the AccuTOF-DART, the Chemistry Unit has used it to analyze many different types of chemicals and evidentiary materials--including drugs, poisons, sugars, explosives, dyes, and many other commercial products--in matrices ranging from solvents and urine to cereal bowl residue and clothing stains. This technique has been useful for both fast screening and high-end confirmation.


DNAUII is validating the use of robotic platforms to automate analysis of the entire control region of mtDNA. The use of a robotic system will greatly decrease the time required to perform mtDNA analysis in the unit. Two Biomek 2000 robotic workstations will perform DNA extraction and preparation for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification. Amplification and mtDNA sequencing will be accomplished on the TECAN Genesis Freedom robot. Validation is expected to be completed in early 2006. The automated analysis of mtDNA will benefit the National Missing Person DNA Database program as well as the SWGDAM mtDNA Population Database by expeditiously processing bloodstains or buccal swabs submitted for entry into the databases.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Federal Bureau of Investigation at
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:divisions of United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation
Publication:FBI Laboratory Annual Report
Article Type:National organization overview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2005
Previous Article:Collaboration.
Next Article:Administration.

Related Articles
Ashcroft at the CFR. (Insider Report).
Special interest networking events.
Jews most targetted.
Jews target of most hate crimes in U.S.
You have no rights; stories of America in an age of repression.
An Overview of the 2007 Army Antiterrorism Conference.
Table 41: arrests, persons under 15,18,21, and 25 years of age, 2008.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters