Forensic R&D

ESR researchers, as well as our staff involved in forensic casework, undertake a number of forensic research and development projects.

ESR’s forensic R&D projects combine casework expertise with research excellence to deliver scientific advancements that improve justice outcomes.

The projects we undertake range in scale from multi-year international collaborations, New Zealand-based contestable funding projects, and internally funded research initiatives.  Many of our projects involve collaborating with New Zealand and international universities including the supervision of student internships, Masters and PhD level student research projects. Read some of our forensic research case sudies(external link).

Our research focuses on the impact end of science. We are interested in projects that have the potential to develop new scientific techniques or breakthrough technologies that can be applied to the casework we undertake and the contribution that forensic science makes to our communities. Undertaking research that has real impact is what attracts people to forensic science and to research in this field.

Active forensic R&D projects

For a larger version of this graphic, click here [PDF, 767 KB]


Interested in collaborating?

Collaboration at ESRIf you're interested in collaborating with us, contact Forensic Research & Development Manager, Dion Sheppard.

Interested in an internship?

Research internIf you're a postgraduate science student interested in a research internship, please email a cover letter and CV to Forensic Research & Development Manager, Dion Sheppard.


Read about some of our active research projects below:

  • Our Border to Grave project makes use of data to improve justice outcomes.  In this project we leverage ESR’s illicit substance analysis work at the border; though the analyses performed on seized substances; the analysis of Land Transport, coronial and criminal cases; and analysis of drugs in wastewater samples. In addition, we are also partnering with specialists at hospital emergency departments who are working with substance affected individuals.
  • Our Forensic Intelligence project will combine social systems and systems thinking expertise with data analytics to deliver intelligence outputs that help to reduce the harm of crime. 
  • Massively parallel sequencing (MPS) is being used to develop our RNA expertise which is enabling us to determine the type of body fluid present in a sample, taking our expertise beyond ‘who’ is present in a sample to determine what is present and help answer how it might have got there.  Supporting this project is our Mt Albert Science Centre Sequencing Facility which is providing the MPS analysis outputs.
  • Statistics and Bayesian interpretation has been one of ESR’s specialist expertise for a number of year.  Our new Bayesian Networks research project will build on this to develop a statistical framework for the relative weight to be attached to scientific findings in relation to the activity that took place.  This process will support the courts to assess and consider multiple pieces of evidence together and to better answer the frequently asked questions informed by our court experience. 
  • Our Drugs on the Dark Net project is investigating real-time drug trends, by testing the ability to create an intelligence feedback loop from the dark net to enhance drug detection capabilities. 
  • ESR has partnered with MEDSAC, the Medical Sexual Assault Clinicians Aotearoa, and NZ Police to design and pilot an electronic form for recording sexual assault examinations. This project will help streamline the collection of casework information and will also explore ways of minimising the impact of examinations of victims of sexual violence.
  • We are using data analytics to investigate case analysis patterns in our Data Informing Case Throughput project, and to understand the relationships between linked cases in our Crime Links project.  Both of these projects will deliver insights that will be used to improve the progressing of analyses through the laboratory as well as identifying opportunities to deliver more information from our existing cases.
  • Improving forensic laboratory workflows is the focus of our Optimising Sample Collection, Body Fluid Identification, and our Rapid DNA projects.  These projects are seeking to develop enhanced ways to collect samples for DNA analysis, produce real-time identification of body fluids present, and tests the potential of generating rapid preliminary DNA analysis results.
  • The Methamphetamine Detection project continues to develop our leading scientific expertise in methamphetamine analysis and explores methamphetamine contamination levels in different environments and assesses methods of sample collection and detection.  
  • Our Artificial Intelligence for FTIR project is looking to develop machine learning methods to streamline and automate the detection of illicit drugs in seized samples. 
  • We are converting our extensive training material into e-learning resources, making them more easily accessible and more interactive for forensic organisations.  Through this project we are also developing virtual reality content to support learning outcomes, allowing trainees to experience and participate in forensic training environments rather than just reading about them.