Thomas Cech
Thomas Cech

Acclaimed University of Colorado Nobel laureate Thomas Cech has added another distinction to his resume with his appointment to the first-ever National Commission on Forensic Science.

Cech, a CU Distinguished Professor who shared the 1989 Nobel Prize in chemistry for the discovery of the catalytic properties of RNA, was one of seven chemists among the 33 commission members who were selected out of a pool of more than 300 applicants.

The commission is a joint project of the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

A statement issued by NIST said members of the commission are charged with working to improve the practice of forensic science by developing guidance concerning the intersections between forensic science and the criminal justice system.

Additionally, the commission is tasked with producing policy recommendations for the U.S. attorney general, including uniform codes for professional responsibility and requirements for certification and formal training.

Accordingly, the commission draws its members from a broad pool of candidates, including forensic science practitioners from the federal, state and local level, law enforcement officials, judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys, scientists and other representatives of academia.

The commission is being chaired by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole and Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Patrick Gallagher.

"This new commission represents an extremely broad range of expertise and skills. It will help ensure that forensic science is supported by the strongest possible science-based evidence gathering, analysis and measurement," Gallagher said in a news release.

Cech responded to an interview request Wednesday with an email saying that he was traveling and not available for comment until next week..

He is, according to NIST spokeswoman Jennifer Huergo, one of seven chemists, but the only Nobel laureate on the commission.

"What we did, for the process, was we had invited through a federal registered notice, we asked people to put in their applications and we received more than 300," Huergo said. "There were a lot of qualified people who could not be selected.

"Our goal was to make sure the relevant stakeholders in the community would be represented and there would be a balance of interests," she added. "They were looking for a diversity of background, in their subject backgrounds of expertise, and in looking at their contributions to the different fields of practice or research."

The commission is slated to have its first meeting at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., the first week of February.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Charlie Brennan at 303-473-1327, brennanc@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/chasbrennan.