The Academy Aperçus is a monthly feature that celebrates 75 years of forensic science by spotlighting the history and anticipating the future of each section of the Academy. Beginning in March and progressing through each section in the order of acknowledgement by the Academy, a senior member will join with a junior member to memorialize salient events, highlight members, and provide insight into why the Academy remains the premier forensic science organization in the world. This month features the Engineering & Applied Sciences Section.
Carole E Chaski PhD, Engineering & Applied Sciences Fellow
Acknowledgements: Thanks to my colleagues in EAS and staff at AAFS for their help with information and editing: Scott Batterman, Helmut Brosz, Laura Liptai, Mark Marpet, John Nixon, David Pienkowski, Tom Shefchick, and Kimberly Wrasse, and thanks to Laura Fulginiti for the invitation to write this aperçu.
From its inception, Engineering and Applied Sciences (EAS) has been a place where forensic techniques are grounded in source sciences and tested for reliability in the forensic setting. In 1982, when the "Engineering Section" was added to the Academy, its focus was on accident reconstruction and the physics of collisions as well as electrical, mechanical, structural, and other reconstructions. A main goal of the section was to provide science-based, reliable methods for the analysis of automobile accidents because engineers were concerned that law enforcement agencies were being given methods that were not science-based and not reliable. This stance — that forensic science should be grounded in an established science — has been a constant in the section's evolution.
Contributions to Academy Leadership and Initiatives
EAS has contributed to Academy leadership in forensic sciences in several ways. First, EAS has produced three AAFS officers. Second, EAS members have developed Academy initiatives that strengthen forensic science and collaboration between specialties. Thus, EAS is the source of four longstanding Academy resources: (1) The Young Forensic Scientists Forum, (2) The Global Collaboration of Forensic Scientists, (3) The AAFS Reference Series, and (4) the Academy Cup, a popular Academy-wide competition. Third, EAS members have supported Academy initiatives that strengthen forensic science and collaboration between specialties.
First, EAS has produced Academy officers, Steven C. Batterman, Thomas Bohan, and Laura Liptai.
Dr. Steven C. Batterman served as AAFS President from 1994–1995. During his tenure, the Young Forensic Scientists Forum (YFSF) was created. The YFSF was co-founded by Drs. Steven and Scott Batterman; it has been wildly successful, growing from a small breakfast seminar to hosting an annual interdisciplinary workshop and poster sessions. The Forum continues to engage students and help the Academy grow its membership. For this as well as other activities, Dr. Steven Batterman also received the AAFS Distinguished Fellow Award in 2001. In 2022, EAS voted to develop the Steven C. Batterman Award for Courage and Integrity in Forensic Science as an honor in his memory. (Scott is very much with us, gratefully!)
Dr. Thomas Bohan served as AAFS President from 2009–2010. During his tenure, the Academy published a formal statement regarding the 2009 National Academy of Science's Report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward.1 In this statement, the Academy recorded that we particularly emphasize, endorse, and promote the following principles:
- All forensic science disciplines must have a strong scientific foundation.
- All forensic science laboratories should be accredited.
- All forensic scientists should be certified.
- Forensic science terminology should be standardized.
- Forensic scientists should be assiduously held to Codes of Ethics.
- Existing forensic science professional entities should participate in governmental oversight of the field.
- Attorneys and judges who work with forensic scientists and forensic science evidence should have a strong awareness and knowledge of the scientific method and forensic science disciplines.
I met Dr. Bohan at The National Academy of Science's Sackler Symposium on Forensic Science where he presented a lecture representing AAFS and I was presenting a poster on quantitative methods for authorship identification. During the poster session, Dr. Bohan talked to me about my approach to authorship and invited me to join the EAS. As a Visiting Research Fellow at the National Institute of Justice from 1995–1998, I had attended AAFS meetings and presented my research for a decade, but I had not found a home. After exploring EAS, I realized that the quantitative, engineering focus was a natural fit for natural language engineering, the technology behind Google Search, Apple Siri, the still-developing auto-spell and word prediction, which we all love to hate (or allow to chat. Arghhhh!), and forensic authorship identification.
Dr. Laura Liptai served as Secretary of the Academy from 2021–2022. During this time, Dr Liptai co-founded the Global Collaboration of Forensic Scientists (GCFS) with Past President Barry Fisher. The initiative was later incorporated within the International Affairs Committee with support from chair Pete Ausili. The GCFS Educational Webinar Series is an Academy-wide philanthropic educational outreach endeavor that implements the Academy mission for education at no cost to AAFS or attendees. It is dedicated to the production and distribution of scientific research and educational lectures to benefit forensic science and technology as well as society internationally. Further, the GCFS aims to be a worldwide resource for expert assistance and collaboration, advancing justice for all.
The GCFS offers webinars and seminars, partnering with the United States Department of Justice's International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP), the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime as well as numerous international universities. These webinars provide an international venue highlighting AAFS' educational and philanthropic collaboration between the forensic sciences worldwide. The webinar just this month reached scientists in 32 different countries. In the two years since its inception, the project has collaborated with every continent but Antarctica.
Academy Resources Initiated by EAS
Second, in addition to the Young Forensic Scientists Forum and the Global Collaboration of Forensic Scientists, EAS is the source of two other longstanding Academy resources: The AAFS Reference Series and the Academy Cup.
In 2012, an EAS member, Laura Liptai, initiated and series edited The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) Reference Series, which is likely the largest collection of forensic case studies and research abstracts worldwide spanning 11 fields of forensic science. The series contains up to a decade of proceedings from many of the most prominent forensic scientists worldwide for every section. Dr. Liptai contributed $16,000 of personal funds to hire summer staff solely dedicated to producing the 12 books (two for Criminalistics) from over 900 authors from every section at the time. This first-of-its-kind collection of scientific case studies has been placed in the Library of Congress for its contribution to science. After the cumulative 4,324-page, hardcover books were completed, Dr. Liptai worked with Staff leader Nancy Jackson to put the reference series into a searchable database, The AAFS Reference Series Library, which is available at https://www.aafs.org/research-insights-featured/aafs-reference-series-library. On the new website, look under the menu "Research & Resources" for "Reference Library." The database contains over 14,750 articles, all searchable for free. At one point, the Reference Series Library was the second most popular draw to the AAFS website after the job board.
In 2014, Dr. Liptai, serving as Plenary Chair, and Susan Ballou co-founded the Academy Cup. The Academy Cup is a fun and educational way for members of sections to get to know each other as well as members of other sections. Later, she recruited leadership with Distinguished Fellow Carla Noziglia and Past President Carol Henderson to put the Young Forensic Scientists in the middle of the Academy Cup action. If you haven't participated in an Academy Cup, then you definitely should because, in addition to finding out some fascinating forensic science facts, you'll have a good time laughing with your peers.
In the past 25 years, EAS has been represented on the Board of Directors by David S. Goldman (1998–1999), Thomas Bohan (1999–2005), Scott D. Batterman (2005–2008), Robert N. Anderson (2008–2011), Laura Liptai (2011–2017) and Mark Marpet (2017–2023). Along with our other Directors, Dr. Marpet has consistently represented the view that forensic science must be science in the forensic setting, and along the way has given several lectures about proof and evidence at EAS sessions.
EAS Support for the Academy Mission
Third, EAS has supported Academy initiatives for strengthening forensic science.
One example of EAS support for Academy mission is our joint sessions. EAS has had joint sessions with Jurisprudence, Criminalistics, and an upcoming one with Forensic Nursing Science. These joint sessions strengthen collaborations among forensic scientists and demonstrate how we can work together to pursue justice. Kurt Weiss has strengthened EAS sessions throughout his tenure as Program Chair in both home and joint sessions.
A second example is the development of responses to new kinds of evidence. The Digital & Multimedia Sciences Section was spawned by EAS, with its first section chair, Zeno Geradts, from EAS.
A third example is that EAS has supported the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB). FSAB was initiated in 1996 as a way for forensic scientist certification to be managed and moved to an objective footing, rather than subjective assessment or a fee model. I remember vividly when several leaders of AAFS and federal laboratories came to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to ask for help on this issue. An industrious group was offering forensic science certifications for an application fee, with no examinations and no vetting. AAFS leaders immediately saw the danger in this, convinced NIJ to provide funding, and the FSAB was born as a way to "accredit the certifiers." The industrious group was later shown to be dangerous indeed through investigations by ProPublica, the Washington Post, and Dateline, while the FSAB became a solid albeit somewhat controversial voice for certification management in forensic science.
FSAB first accredited the International Board of Forensic Engineering Sciences (IBFES) in March 2007. Dr Peter Alexander, a retired EAS Fellow, currently serves as a Director of FSAB. At this time, 14% of EAS members are Diplomates of IBFES. Meanwhile, 31% of EAS members are certified as Professional Engineers (PE) in the United States or international governments.
In 2021, FSAB accreditation became significantly more stringent, applying ISO 9000 standards to itself and its accreditation requirements and procedures. This resulted in some certifying bodies abandoning FSAB accreditation because it became too demanding. IBFES President, Klas Haglid, PE, and Vice President, John Nixon, PE, MBA, have invested hundreds of hours in revising IBFES policies and procedures to comply with the new FSAB requirements. These efforts have resulted in IBFES assessment for certification becoming both more stringent and more objective. The vast range of subdisciplines in the engineering sciences has resulted in an assessment program that is tailored to the education, experience, and nationality of each individual applicant. While this has been, and will continue to be, a significant administrative effort, the results have been extremely worthwhile. IBFES is now widely recognized as the worldwide gold standard for engineering scientist certification and is highly valued by clients and courts.
A Broad Scope United by Scientific Method and Quantitative Analysis
In the past 40 years, the breadth of forensic applications of basic sciences through engineering has grown. Likewise, the breadth of Engineering and Applied Sciences has grown. At a typical meeting of EAS, you can hear cutting-edge research on a very wide range of forensically significant situations and methods, such as (in alphabetical order):
- accident reconstruction
- acoustic analysis of voices and sounds in recordings
- applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning to forensic data
- author identification through quantitative linguistics
- bullet trajectories
- burn patterns
- collapsing buildings
- colliding vehicles
- construction and building codes
- classifying texts as threats, suicide notes, and predatory chats
- damage done by specific kinds of bullets and knives
- deception detection
- disasters at sea
- disintegrating bridges
- engine failure
- electrical accidents
- effect of falls and automobile crashes on human anatomy and function
- effects of safety belt malfunction
- exploding bombs
- gait analysis for identification of people in video
- high-speed photography
- inclines of roads and ramps
- injury causation analysis
- malfunctioning guns
- marine architecture defects and shipping accidents
- mechanical defects
- mechanism of trauma
- premises liability
- product defect
- safety issues involving inclines and railings on stairs
- speaker identification
- standards for data management, experimental design, and validation testing
- structural accidents and defects
- quantitative handwriting identification using machine learning methods
All of these topics share a commitment to using the principles and methodology of basic science — experiment, observation, measurement, statistical analysis — in the forensic setting.
Breadth of EAS Membership
Members of EAS are scientists first and forensic scientists second. Typically, our degrees are in in engineering or engineering-related fields. Thus, you will find degrees in mechanical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, biomedical engineering, computer engineering, linguistics, especially computational linguistics (a.k.a. natural language engineering) and corpus linguistics (a.k.a. quantitative linguistics), land and marine architecture, biomechanics, physics, and operations research.
EAS current membership is composed of Active and Retired Fellows (38.5%), Active and Retired Members (18.4%), Associate Members (32.4%), Student/Trainee Affiliates (2.6%) with 7.8% applicants. Almost all applicants and members of EAS are United States citizens, but Australia, Canada, Italy, the Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Singapore, and Spain are also represented.
Three-quarters of EAS current membership have earned graduate degrees (75%), holding master's degrees (31%) and doctoral degrees (44%).
In contrast to other sections, almost all members of EAS (97%) own private laboratories, with only 3% in public laboratories or academe. It is not surprising, given this employment, that EAS members work in both criminal and civil cases, with more civil than criminal cases. Further, many EAS members regularly provide consulting support to public laboratories and independently work international cases as well as cases based in the United States.
Given that most EAS members work in private laboratories, another distinctive feature of EAS is the cross-generational membership. Fathers-sons include Robert L. Anderson, MS, and his sons Robert D. Anderson, MS, and Russell L. Anderson, MS; Dr. Steven C. Batterman and his son Dr. Scott D. Batterman; Helmut G. Brosz and his son Peter J.E. Brosz; Harold Frank, MS, and his son Darren Frank, MS; William G. Hyzer and his son Dr. James B. Hyzer; and father-daughter pairs are Andrew H. Payne and Eleanor Posey; and Mark C. Pozzi, M.S. and Rachel L. Pozzi, M.S. The three Andersons and the two Pozzis each have their own companies, while the other pairs work together in a shared practice.
EAS and Innovation in the Reliability Era
When the civil case known as Daubert was decided, forensic science entered into a new era in which reliability is a key factor for admissible evidence.2 Under the Frye standard, general acceptability was prioritized, but the clear loophole in the general acceptance standard was the fact that communities of crackpots can be put forward as generally accepting an unreliable, unscientific method. The Daubert ruling shifted the priority to reliability: has a method been tested and proven to be reliable, with a known error rate?
Reliability is a standard that is readily embraced by the underlying scientific stance of EAS. After all, when a new product is "engineered," it undergoes a lot of testing to show that the product actually does what it says it does (validity) and performs well under specific conditions (reliability). While the Daubert ruling was controversial and, for some forensic techniques, almost earth-shattering, it was simply the courts catching up to "normal science" for EAS. The Daubert ruling aligns with the goals of normal science for validity and reliability.
One interesting side effect of the Daubert ruling is that it also aligns forensic science with another aspect of normal science — innovation. In normal science, innovation is part and parcel of scientific progress. It is expected that new and novel techniques will be developed, tested, and put into practice by the relevant community. In forensic science, however, new and novel techniques have not been embraced as readily, such that innovation in forensic science usually comes from outside forensic science. That is, when a techniques is developed in a basic science, and that basic science technique has a forensic application, then there might be an innovation in forensic science as the forensic science community embraces the new technique. The most obvious example of this is DNA. DNA was developed outside of the forensic science community for the determination of paternity, but later found a home in forensic science as a means of identifying people from biological matter left at crime scenes. Another example is quantitative authorship identification. Again, quantitative authorship identification using computational linguistics and statistics was developed outside the forensic science community (with Shakespearean and Biblical disputes) but eventually found a home in EAS.
In fact, EAS is the natural entry point for the development of innovation in forensic science. First, the conception of science and forensic science are extremely close in EAS, so the innovative scientist and EAS forensic scientist will be speaking a common language and understand research goals and practical issues. Second, the quantification of data that is standard practice in normal science is expected and required in EAS. Third, with its name change to Engineering & Applied Sciences, EAS is welcoming to engineering-related sciences. Some traditional techniques in forensic science that will eventually meet the Daubert standard for reliability will be using a framework developed in EAS and common to all sciences — experiment, observation, measurement, and statistical analysis. Further, as basic science comes to recognize its value in the forensic setting (a goal that the National Science Foundation has been working toward since my days as a Fellow at NIJ), innovation in forensic science will naturally meet the Daubert standards of reliability and known error rate.
So, if you know a science, and you see a possible application for it, you are welcome to come to EAS, where you will find other scientists who are open to hearing how you have used basic science — experiment, observation, measurement, statistical analysis — to solve a problem in the forensic setting.
1. Committee on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Sciences Community: Committee on Applied and Theoretical Statistics, National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences, 2009.
Rachel Pozzi, MS, Engineering & Applied Sciences Associate Member
I'm sure we all remember that aptitude quiz we took in middle school that took some fairly generic behavioral markers and produced what sounded like a done-deal career path. Well, I did that same quiz, and of course the results were always "engineering," "investigative," "highly inquisitive." I would see those results and say, "Well, duh, I already knew that — I still need to figure out what I am going to do."
Reflecting on a bit of a generational change in career opportunities and the molding of youth from when I was in middle school compared to now (I am only 26, so let's say the first decade of the new millennia), I think that the career question has changed significantly. I vividly remember the implicit cloud looming overhead saying, "Which fantastic and huge and amazing job are you going to pursue?" There were no options of being "social influencers," or conducting Amazon retail arbitrage — not to discredit these self-made routes, but it wasn't a thing for us yet. Instead, find what you like, find what you're good at, find what will make you financially stable, figure it out at 17, and head full-hearted into college at it and don't look back and don't take any second guesses because this is what you're going to do forever. Simple enough.
From a very young age I knew I was destined to pursue the road less traveled. I didn't want what was easy. This predisposition folded into choosing my career path. Fortunately, I was surrounded by very professional and well-educated people. I have to credit a lot of my ambitions and standards for myself to the environment I was in. I was able to shadow and work alongside my parents in both of their engineering and forensic science jobs. This environment and vocabulary was common in the household, from crash investigations to medical malpractice — I got to be a part of it all and learn, help, and contribute, starting at a young age. Thinking back on it, I am still surprised at the advanced level I was operating at in these circumstances. The AAFS was household talk and adventuring into new problem solving was standard practice — my first run in with forensics probably can't be dated. To no one's surprise, I didn't have to be talked into college. I didn't have to be talked into a career path. I knew right away, "some sort of engineering, or forensics, maybe something medical." I was saying this at probably 12 years old, simply because I could directly see the results of discipline in these difficult career fields. However, into adulthood, like most individuals, my path was certainly not clear cut enough to take me straight to "engineering sciences."
Initially, I had been extremely interested in biomedical engineering and work with human body stress testing, building internal and external prosthetics, and the finite custom manufacturing processes for such. This interest came after I was accepted to the Perry Initiative outreach program for young women, in which we explored a lot of these areas, including chemical engineering. The University of New Mexico did not offer biomedical engineering for undergrad, and at the time I was wanting to stay close to home since I was a professional equine and rodeo athlete still training and competing. Thus, I settled for the direction of mechanical engineering. However, the opportunity for pursuing my rodeo talent offered itself in the form of a full-ride scholarship to Southwestern Oklahoma University on the rodeo team. Here, I reshaped my direction again, toward engineering technology and engineering physics, still staying true to the theme of my formative years. Halfway through undergrad, I saw an opportunity and I made a split-second yet well-thought-out decision. I opted to shift my "minor" focus to environmental rather than manufacturing. With a greater focus on environmental chemistry, industrial regulations, and environmental law and policy, all while maintaining an engineering lens, I felt this direction offered ample opportunity in our constantly shifting world. Regardless of this shift, I still had an affinity for materials, manufacturing, and safety standards. By the time I moved to Tarleton State University for the Environmental Science Social Policy MS program, I really found where forensics and engineering sciences were fitting in. Simultaneously, staying true to diversity and self-application, I still maintained a professional rodeo career, made structural welding repairs to horse trailers, built plane wing boxes, tutored other students, and managed multiple litigations for family and friends, worked two jobs, and started and ran my own business.
I opted to join the EAS section of the Academy not only due to predicated familial membership ties, but it was time to spread my wings in my own individuality and being a part of this organization provided the opportunity to express the niche I dug for myself. My formative experience with the forensic and investigative practices behind automotive manufacturing and injury/death liability cases prepared me to know that the truth is not what we see on the surface. By being privy to the work done within the EAS section, I have been better positioned in my career field, be it environmental, legal, medical, or engineering, to recognize when questions need to be asked and investigation must be sought. The niche I created for myself, found in the juxtaposition of environmental and manufacturing policy and law, tied in preexisting efforts of many in the EAS section regarding automotive forensics and brought forth a revelation identifying an institutional failure by United States Government agencies to properly prosecute and investigate corporate individuals knowingly responsible for the deaths of thousands via auto manufacturing.
While my appearance in EAS was somewhat unconventional, I find it a beneficial example for other individuals who may want to break in with some out-of-the-box directions that relate to the sections at the Academy. On the one hand, growing up in forensics taught me to look extremely closely and to tunnel through data until I find what I am looking for to solve or recast a problem. On the other hand, my experience with environmental law and policy taught me to take a step back and look at the big picture. I spent years shadowing a Subject Matter Expert (SME) who spent their whole life focusing on one small piece of their puzzle, hounding the forensics and mechanics, and constantly trying the same broken key in the lock and never opening a door to fix what was wrong with automotive safety and manufacturing. By the time I was able to step into the EAS on my own, I could finally assert why things weren't changing, why people were still dying egregiously in accidents, and what was fundamentally the limiting agent, from a policy perspective. Ultimately, I don't believe I would've been able to recognize such a disparity had I not taken so many developmental rabbit trails from the time I first got exposed to forensics and the Academy, to the time I finally joined.
The views and opinions expressed in the articles contained in the Academy News are those of the identified authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Academy.