FBI Laboratory Hazardous Materials Analysis

Scientific Analysis

The FBI Laboratory offers assistance with scientific analysis to law enforcement partners.

The information and resources on this page are for law enforcement.

For general information about the FBI Laboratory, visit fbi.gov/lab.

Research and Support 

The FBI Laboratory provides research and support assistance for federal, state, local, and international agencies.

Our research goals are to:

  • Development new capabilities
  • Improvement existing capabilities
  • Defensibility of current and future capabilities

Experts conduct research on a wide range of topics to support advancements in biological, chemical, and physical forensic analyses; operational response; and biometrics. The FBI Laboratory's work is published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and presented at scientific conferences.

The FBI Laboratory provides advanced technical support and consultation, including specialized hands-on experience on operational matters.

Broad Research Portfolios 

  • Advancement of Imaging, Visualization, and Visual Comparison - Research new ideas and develop new techniques to advance imaging, visualization, and visual comparison for forensic studies, including specialized applications for microscopy, hyperspectral imaging, spectrochemical analysis, documents analysis, anthropology, and facial approximation.
  • Advancing Forensics - Advancement of forensic science through improved use of statistical analysis, application of automated pattern recognition technology, and studies on examiner decision reliability.
  • Application of Mass Spectrometry to the Chemical and Biological Sciences - Develop new techniques and improve existing methods for application of mass spectrometry (MS) analysis to the chemical and biological sciences, including techniques in toxicology, analysis of trace volatiles, genotyping via MS, and applications for isotope ratio analysis.
  • Biometric Research - Research in biometrics to advance analysis of intrinsic physiological human traits for the purpose of identifying groups and uniquely recognizing individuals, including studies with fingerprints, palm prints, DNA, RNA, proteins, human scent, and handwriting.
  • Case Work Unit-Specific Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation - Short-term projects that directly address case work needs.
  • Decision Analysis and Validation Studies for Pattern-Based Disciplines - Research projects addressing the accuracy, reliability, and validity of pattern-based forensic science disciplines.
  • Detection, Analysis, and Identification of Biothreat Agents - Develop new techniques and improve existing methods for detection, analysis, and identification of biothreat agents, including pathogens, microbes, spores, viruses, and toxins.
  • Developing Techniques and Technologies -  Research addressing the application of technological advancements and their application to forensic science disciplines.
  • Emerging Issues in Forensic Science - Discipline-specific research addressing urgent, emerging issues.
  • Explosives Detection and Analysis - Evaluate new technology and research methods for advancing characterization, detection, and analysis of explosives and explosives residues.
  • Field Portable Instrumentation - Evaluate new technology for the detection, collection, and characterization of evidence in the field.
  • Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) - NGS allows millions of DNA strands to be sequenced in parallel and DNA from multiple samples to be independently labeled and pooled so many samples can be sequenced in the same reaction. NGS holds the promise for analyzing degraded samples, detecting minor contributors in mixtures, and multiplexing hundreds of genetic loci. The Laboratory Division is interested in research aimed at evaluating NGS technology as a complement to existing forensic DNA analysis.
  • Trace Evidence Analysis - Advance the methods used for analysis of trace evidence, including microscopic and spectroscopic techniques as well as development and use of specialized databases for characterizing trace evidence.

Questioned Documents 

The FBI’s questioned documents experts provide training to federal, state, and local forensic examiners.

The FBI’s questioned documents area of expertise include:

  • Handwriting comparisons
  • Fractured/cut edge comparisons (paper, tape, postage stamps, dryer sheets)
  • Plastic bag comparisons
  • Printing process examinations (document authentication/typewriting classification)
  • Charred and liquid-soaked document preservation
  • Indented writing examinations
  • Alternate light source examinations (ink discrimination, alterations, enhancements)
  • Office machine artifact comparisons
  • Tire tread and shoeprint comparisons/classification
  • Database queries (Anonymous Letter File, Automated Counterfeit Identification Database, Bank Robbery Note File, Tire Tread and Shoe Print Databases)
  • Testimony in legal proceedings
  • Training to counterparts in law enforcement

Request Questioned Documents Help 

To submit digital evidence for shoe print, tire tread, and bank robbery note searches, e-mail a request for search on agency letterhead and the image to be searched to the corresponding e-mail address below:

Scientific Response and Analysis 

The Scientific Response and Analysis Unit provides end-to-end case support, from initial assessment of investigative or intelligence information, “hot zone” capable scientists, crime scene processing and collections, evidence examination, and courtroom testimony regarding:

  • Chemical threats, including chemical warfare agents (CWAs), such as nerve, blood, or blister agents; this can also include other chemical hazards, such as toxic industrial chemicals (TICs) and toxic industrial materials (TIMs), that can be used as weapons.
  • Biological threats, including, but not limited to, toxins and microbial agents, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi that can cause disease in humans, animals, and plants. Bioinformatic data can also be analyzed to detect and characterize engineered or modified biological functions.
  • Radiological/nuclear threats, addressing radiological and nuclear materials and associated devices, both intact and post detonation/dispersion.
  • Specialty examinations, such as:
    • Carbon-14 age dating of human remains
    • Plant, animal, insect, and seed identification
    • Genetically modified organisms

The SRAU administers the FBI’s Hazardous Evidence Analysis Team (HEAT) program. The HEAT program provides traditional and computer-related forensic examinations on evidence contaminated with CBRN materials; no other forensic laboratory offers this unique scientific and technological capability. The HEAT program is composed of experienced, highly specialized, trained forensic examiners who are deployed to conduct their analyses in CBRN containment laboratories. The SRAU maintains and operates HEAT in accordance with the quality management system of the FBI Laboratory.

The SRAU maintains formalized contractual partnerships with key laboratories, called partner laboratories. These laboratories, within the U.S. Government, academia, and the private sector, provide critical scientific capabilities, secure facilities, and experts to support examinations involving hazardous materials. Working with its partner laboratories, the SRAU reviews and exercises existing protocols for hazardous materials, participates in the research and the development of new technologies to address capability gaps, and collaborates with CBRN experts in defining best practices for the collection and forensic analyses of CBRN materials.

The SRAU is committed to the training and education of internal and external counterparts. The unit provides specialized training related to hazardous materials and CBRN threats to those who are involved in the response to such events, including federal, state, and local entities. The unit also promotes the continuing education and training of its staff to enhance and broaden SRAU capabilities and expertise.