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Blog Category: Tech Beat

Shelling Out Evidence: NIST Ballistic Standard Helps Tie Guns to Criminals

Image of shell casing

Thanks to a new reference standard developed by Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), law enforcement agencies will have an easier time linking the nearly 200,000 cartridge cases recovered annually at U.S. crime scenes to specific firearms.

Cartridge cases—the empty shells left behind after a gun is fired—are routinely sent to forensic laboratories for analysis when they're found at a shooting scene. Using a specialized microscope called an Integrated Ballistic Identification System (IBIS), lab technicians acquire digital images of three markings, or "signatures," impressed on the cartridge case by the gun that fired it. These signatures—the firing pin impression, the breech face impression and the ejector mark—are unique when fired from a specific firearm and can serve as "fingerprints" for that gun once the digital images are entered into a national database known as the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN).

For forensic examiners to reliably match recovered cartridge cases with ones whose signatures have been recorded in the NIBIN, they need to have confidence in the accuracy of the equipment and procedures used to make the link. That's where NIST's new "standard casing" comes in. The standard contains two items: an exact replica of a master cartridge case with distinct signature marks (obtained from the Department of Justice's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF), and a "golden" digital image of those same signatures that reside on the NIBIN.  Full Tech Beat story

NIST Effort Could Improve High-Tech Medical Scanners

Microarrayer machines (A) now can mix colors and deposit them on microscope slides, which can be used to calibrate hyperspectral imagers (HSI) for use in medical applications. The finished slides can be custom-colored (B) to calibrate HSIs to find specific types of tumors or disease tissue. Close up, they resemble dot-matrix printwork (C). Photo: Clark/NIST

A powerful color-based imaging technique is making the jump from remote sensing to the operating room—and a team of scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have taken steps to ensure it performs as well when discerning oxygen-depleted tissues and cancer cells in the body as it does with oil spills in the ocean.

The technique, called hyperspectral imaging (HSI), has frequently been used in satellites because of its superior ability to identify objects by color. While many other visual surveying methods can scan only for a single color, HSI is able to distinguish the full color spectrum in each pixel, which allows it to perceive the unique color "signatures" of individual objects. Well-calibrated HSI sensors have been able to discern problems from diseases in coral reefs to pollution in the atmosphere as determined by the distinct spectral signature at a location.  NIST Tech Beat item