Forensic Optical Topography Working Group

Forensic Optical Topography Working Group


April 2015


The Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCOE), in partnership with the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), convened the Forensic Optical Topography Working Group on March 17–18, 2015 at the NIST campus in Gaithersburg, MD. The meeting included researchers and practitioners with a wide range of experience and knowledge regarding forensic applications of microscopy.

This working group sought to establish the applicability and validity of optical topography to forensic investigations and to produce publications or training materials that can be accessed by the entire forensic community and that will provide guidance to practitioners on applications and recommendations for further research, development, and capacity assistance. Primarily, the working group examined optical topography instruments, methods, data systems, and analysis from a practical perspective for ballistic and tool mark identification.


  • Determine how to improve practitioner access to optical topography instrumentation and methods.
  • Determine how optical topography may improve the ability to individualize firearms and tool marks and provide a more objective and reliable basis for forensic comparisons. These comparisons are expert-based. Although we do not yet have a way to develop a probabilistic framework at this time, we can try to determine how these methods can be used to improve the ability of the individual examiner to quantitate their findings.
  • Stimulate future research and development in optical topography, and identify gaps in the research portfolio.

Funding for this Forensic Technology Center of Excellence report was provided by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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