Quantitative Criminalistics

APR 25, 2014 | 12:00 PM TO 2:00 PM



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue


6112: Sociology Student Lounge


April 25, 2014: 12:00 PM-2:00 PM




Title: Quantitative Criminalistics: Application of State-of-the-Art Machine Learning and Computational Statistics to Catching Bad Guys

Speaker: Professor Nicholas Petraco, John Jay College

Abstract: Is it really a “match”? How “certain” are you? What is your “error rate”? Over the last century, Forensic Scientists have struggled with the fact that there is no accepted methodology to generate numerical support/rebuttal of their qualitative conclusions. The purpose of our research is to quantify the “evidence” (i.e. data) Forensic Scientists work every day and analyze it using both frequentist and Bayesian tools. In this way we have been able to help practicing firearms examiners and trace-evidence analysts express their findings and overall performance in probabilistic terms. Our lab primarily uses open-source tools such as R.

Bio: Nicholas D. K. Petraco’s general interests lie in the application of rigorous science to the law and litigation. His training is at the intersection of physics, applied mathematics, chemistry, and computer science. He earned a bachelor degree in chemistry from Colgate University in 1998 and a doctorate in quantum chemistry from the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry (at the University of Georgia) in 2002. Dr. Petraco then moved to Ontario Canada where he was a postdoctoral fellow in applied mathematics at the University of Waterloo from 2002-2004. In September 2004 he was appointed to an assistant professorship in the forensic science program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and The Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY). He is currently an associate professor at John Jay and a member of both the Faculties of Chemistry and Criminal Justice at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Dr. Petraco’s research has been profiled in the New York Times, Popular Mechanics, C&E News, and the New Scientist.