NIST 'Standard Bullet' fights gang violence

January 19, 2007
NIST 'Standard Bullet' fights gang violence
A NIST Standard Reference Material 2460 "standard bullet" mounted on a blue stub. Each one has six signature markings typically found in a fired bullet. SRM 2460 is intended primarily for use as a check for crime laboratories to help verify that the computerized optical equipment for bullet imaging and profiling is operating properly. Credit: NIST

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a copper bullet designed to help end criminal sprees without once being fired. Crime laboratories can use NIST's "Standard Bullet" to optimize the settings of computerized optical imaging instruments used to match markings on fired bullets from a suspected weapon.

Analyzing bullet markings in order to trace guns used in multiple crimes, such as gang activities, is possible because a gun's firing pin, rifling, breech face and ejection mechanism can impart unique markings, called "signatures" on fired bullets or ejected casings. Comparison (dual) optical microscopes allow forensic experts to compare signature features as small as a micrometer or one fortieth the width of a human hair.

Digital imaging systems are used to gather and store bullet signatures in forensic databases, and it's important for these systems to record the best possible images. Crime labs can test the quality of their imaging systems by taking pictures of NIST's Standard Bullet and evaluating how well their system's analysis of the bullet's signature matches up with a certified signature provided by the Institute.

To make the Standard Bullet, NIST traced surface topography profiles on six master bullets fired by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Researchers fed the data to a computer-controlled diamond turning machine to engrave six typical bullet signatures on the standard. After machining, a specially designed chemical etching process was used to roughen the surface of the bullet to make it appear like a real bullet when observed under an optical microscope.

Earlier efforts at standard bullets produced by real guns could show minute changes in signatures due to gun wear and environmental conditions. However, since the signatures and dimensions of the NIST Standard Bullet are recorded for manufacture, subsequent copies are essentially identical. The etched and corrosion-protected NIST Standard Bullet is certified for use until June 30, 2016. In 2007, NIST hopes to produce a complementary standard for ejected casings by a different fabrication procedure. The bullet and casing reference standards will support the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN) goal of establishing nationwide ballistics traceability, measurement unification and quality control. NIBIN is a joint project of the FBI and the ATF.

Source: National Institute of Standards and Technology

Explore further: PML study supports validity of toolmark identification in forensics

Related Stories

Improving speed measurements for cars, bullets

May 21, 2009

While today's law enforcement officers don't wear utility belts full of crimefighting gadgets like Batman, they do rely on a variety of state-of-the-art technologies to do their jobs efficiently and safely. Two of these devices—down-the-road ...

NIST Bullet Tests Make Frangibles More Tangible

June 8, 2006

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology are measuring precisely the disintegration of “frangible” bullets when they strike a surface to better understand how the ammunition might affect body ...

Recommended for you

Interactive tool lifts veil on the cost of nuclear energy

August 24, 2015

Despite the ever-changing landscape of energy economics, subject to the influence of new technologies and geopolitics, a new tool promises to root discussions about the cost of nuclear energy in hard evidence rather than ...

Smart home heating and cooling

August 28, 2015

Smart temperature-control devices—such as thermostats that learn and adjust to pre-programmed temperatures—are poised to increase comfort and save energy in homes.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.