Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Bruce E. Warner

Bruce E. Warner

Associate Director for Global Security

Constant Vigilance in Forensic Science

EVERY day, Lawrence Livermore advances science and technology in service to national security. Our specialized centers and institutes pursue this mission with novel research projects, first-class facilities, and multidisciplinary staff. As the feature article, The Case for Modern Forensic Science, describes, the Laboratory’s Forensic Science Center (FSC) is a notable example of our longstanding leadership in a rapidly evolving field.

Founded in the early 1990s, the FSC brings many strengths to modern forensic science. Much of the center’s success comes from commitment to both operational and research activities. Analyzing samples for the criminal justice system, the intelligence community, and international entities drives research and development in forensic techniques and instrumentation. Such scientific improvements, in turn, enable FSC staff to process increasingly complicated samples for multiple sponsors. Recent proteomics breakthroughs are direct outgrowths of this balanced approach.

These remarkable achievements are made possible through FSC scientists’ technical excellence and the center’s advancement of analytical methods for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives samples. The FSC applies data-driven forensic analyses to real-world cases, routinely supporting evidentiary efforts for the U.S. Department of Justice and its Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Indeed, the FSC brings many best practices to conventional forensic science, such as using nondestructive techniques that preserve materials for further evaluation. Demonstrating its commitment to producing data of the highest quality, center operations comply with the International Organization for Standardization’s competency and calibration requirements. In addition, the center consistently receives top marks on proficiency tests that require detection of minute quantities of chemicals in highly complex samples. These practices enable FSC scientists to study the composition of a sample and understand its origin through chemical synthesis and attribution projects.

Organizations at home and abroad value the FSC’s capabilities. As an example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency relies on the FSC as the reference laboratory for the Environmental Response Laboratory Network, providing analysis methods, standards, and training. Moreover, the FSC is one of only two U.S. laboratories certified by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for analysis of environmental and biomedical samples and is one of only 22 laboratories worldwide that supports OPCW treaty verification and alleged-use investigations. In addition, FSC staff, through the Department of State’s Chemical Security Program, train other countries’ first responders to properly identify and investigate chemical threats.

Together FSC’s strengths—a comprehensive portfolio, high-quality research and development, rigorous methodologies, practical experience, and accreditations—tell a compelling, but incomplete, story. Even the best commercial laboratories lack two additional factors contributing to the center’s success. First, since the FSC is a federally funded research and development center—motivated by mission, not profit—sponsors are assured of objective results. Second, the center has access to capabilities beyond its own walls. Whether the need is expertise or equipment, the FSC can draw upon the skill and proficiency of Laboratory colleagues who are experts in a range of scientific and engineering disciplines. With this in-house support, FSC staff can collaborate with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and other partners in an even broader scope of work.

As world events evolve in complexity, the nation’s problems have become increasingly challenging. The FSC’s most important assets are the outstanding people who work together as a team to solve problems. Livermore’s national security mission depends on constant vigilance, and the FSC’s dedication and technical excellence is reflective of the entire Laboratory workforce. Our ability to anticipate and adapt to changing needs makes us an asset to our sponsors, who are motivated to send their most difficult problems here.