In response to the national call to strengthen the fundamental scientific underpinnings of the forensic sciences, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) are co-sponsors of a developing Center for Advanced Research in Forensic Science (CARFS). The planned multi-site center will function through the Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers Program (I/UCRC) at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Potential research sites that may become part of CARFS include: U. North Texas; Texas A&M; Florida International U.; George Washington U.; Iowa State; Cal State – LA; Northeastern; South Alabama; and West Virginia U. These sites cover a wide range of forensic science sub-disciplines, including forensic chemistry, molecular biology, microbial forensics, forensic psychology, digital forensics, impression analysis, and biomechanical engineering.

The I/UCRC program at NSF enables industrially-relevant, pre-competitive research via multi-member, sustained partnerships between industry, academe, and government. This 40+ year old program has been highly successful, and currently has over 70 active centers involving Fortune 500 companies as well as mid-sized and small businesses, government agencies, foundations, and associations. Industry members pay a membership fee each year (this center: $25,000), with a minimum of 90% of those funds going toward Center research projects. NSF (and for this center, NIJ) supports administrative costs at each research site.

Each I/UCRC has an Industrial Advisory Board (IAB) made up of a representative from each industry member across all Center research sites. The IAB plays a central role in the direction of the Center, advising the Center Director and individual Site Directors on the projects to be supported by the Center, project modifications, and new projects or research directions. Center industry members have access to all intellectual property (IP) produced across all sites of a Center; patent rights are held by the university where research was conducted. Members who wish to exercise rights to a royalty-free license pay for the costs of patent application; if only one company seeks a license, it may obtain an exclusive, fee-bearing license. All Center members sign a membership agreement that outlines the key aspects of the program (e.g. IAB, shared IP, licensing rights), and additional logistical and procedural details are outlined in center bylaws.

In addition to access to all intellectual property, there are several other advantages of Center membership, including interaction with students who represent potential future employees, collaboration with research faculty and potential for spin-off projects outside of a Center, and sector networking. Also, there is the potential for novel developments and significant innovation that would not be realized without cross-site project integration and synergy; it is anticipated that the research outcomes of CARFS will in many cases be relevant beyond the forensic science sector.