Forensics@NIST Draws Virtual Audience of Thousands
Written by Linda Joy   

NIST Corner — Forensics@NIST, an every-other-year event presenting NIST’s latest forensic science research, drew approximately 200 attendees to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Gaithersburg, Md., campus Dec. 3-4, 2014. The actual audience for the event, however, was about 10 times larger—more than 2,000 people tuned into a live online webcast.

In a time of limited travel budgets, NIST is successfully using technology to update the forensic science community about research that can advance the practice of forensic science in the United States. If you were not able to travel to Gaithersburg for the event, you can still watch it. View the webcast archive at:

“For 2014, we organized the technical program around four main themes: biometrics and computer forensics, DNA, firearms and toolmarks, and statistical measurements,” explained NIST Forensic Science Research Program Manager Susan Ballou. “Online viewers can select presentations within these themes to suit their interests.”

NIST webcasts have been growing in popularity as evidenced by large online audiences for the recent DNA analysis webinar series, biometric and forensic technology webcast, and mobile forensics workshop webcast. Find links to these events on the NIST Forensics Conferences and Events page:

Coming to these meetings in person certainly offers advantages: tours of NIST research laboratories, poster sessions staffed by NIST scientists, and face-to-face interactions with peers. However, web tools are making it easy to open meetings to virtual audiences and therefore inform wider audiences about NIST science.

Forensics@NIST organizers also used Twitter to encourage virtual audience members to participate in the question-and-answer sessions following each panel of speakers. Virtual audience members could submit questions through Twitter using the hashtag #NISTForensics. To help webcast viewers visualize the speaker, NIST posted photos of the speakers on Twitter too (with the same hashtag). The webcast page carried the NIST Twitter feed in real time next to the video viewer to enhance the viewing experience.

Forensics@NIST 2014 is the third in the Forensics@NIST symposium series. Organizers added tours for the first time in 2014. While most of the speakers were NIST scientists, Jed Rakoff, a U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of New York, was the keynote speaker. During the computer forensics and biometrics session, nine NIST scientists presented talks relating to computer and mobile device forensics as well as biometric matching technologies.

Seven members of the NIST Applied Genetics Group spoke about advances in their work on DNA profiling standards, DNA mixture interpretation, rapid DNA typing protocols, and next-generation sequencing. The session on firearms and toolmarks featured five NIST scientists who spoke on their efforts to improve firearms identification, objectively identify consecutively manufactured tools, and develop a ballistic toolmark research database. The final four NIST speakers covered the use of statistics to improve decision-making for low-template DNA traces and to improve fingerprint-matching algorithms.

To see the full agenda, as well as poster abstracts and poster PDF documents, go to:

You can also see photos of many of the NIST Forensics@NIST 2014 speakers on the NIST Flickr site at:

To receive alerts about NIST forensic science events, sign up for NIST forensic science news at Look for the sign-up box on the left side of the page. Enter your email address and click “submit”.

About the Author

Linda Joy is the Communications Manager for the NIST Special Programs Office. Among her duties are managing and writing for the office’s websites, including:

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