UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering


Fully funded PhD studentship in using an olfactory methodology to assess mould in buildings

20 December 2022

Applications are now open for a proposed studentship in 'A novel ‘OLFACTORY’ methodology for assessing the presence of mould in buildings', as part of 60 studentships to be awarded by the UCL EPSRC DTP.

Mould by a window in a house

About the project

Project title: A novel ‘OLFACTORY’ methodology for assessing the presence of mould in buildings
Project supervisors: Dr Hector Altamirano (UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering), Dr Josep Grau-Bove (UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage)
Project ID: 2228bd1128 (You will need this ID for your application)

According to the English Housing Survey (EHS), the number of homes affected by moisture-related problems has decreased during the last decade. Percentages as low as 3% of the residential social sector were reported to have severe condensation and mould problems (2019-20 EHS). However, recent evidence from SHELTER shows that almost 50% of the rented properties are affected by mould, which is a significant issue for social housing landlords, given the legal requirement that rental properties should be fit for human habitation (Act 2018). The latter has been even more relevant for the UK'shousing sector given the recently reported death of a two-year-old boy living in a mould-contaminated flat. The variability in the data lies in inconsistent methods of information collection combined with tenants' poor understanding of visible mould. This project aims to establish a new methodology to assess moisture-related problems based on olfactory perception. Since the microbial volatile organic compounds (mVOCs) produced by mould shave a strong smell and are quickly released into the air, smelling 'damp' is an effective indication of the existence of mould.

The PhD will explore i) The common mould species found in UK homes and their water requirements for germination and growth, from highly hydrophilic (wet loving) to highly xerophilic (dry loving) species. ii) the influence of indoor environmental conditions on mould development, specifically on the production and release of microbial volatile organic compounds (mVOCs), and iii) the variation of smells associated with those microbial volatile organic compounds (mVOCs). Experimental work will be carried out analysing common moulds growing in buildings using chromatography/mass-spectrometry coupled with olfactometric detection (GC-O). This technique enables human analysts to record data on odour sensations. An interdisciplinary methodology to assess indoor mould in residential properties will be developed and tested in mould-contaminated properties.

About the Supervisory Team

Primary Supervisor: Dr Hector Altamirano 
Subsidiary Supervisor: Dr Josep Grau-Bove

This multidisciplinary team combines expertise in the development of mould in buildings and humidity conditions, in-situ monitoring, field surveys and experimental setup of buildings (Dr Altamirano) and heritage science, chemical engineering, analysis and modelling of indoor environments and their effects on materials with a focus on classifying degraded modern polymeric museum artefacts by their smell (Dr Grau-Bove).

Key information

Funder: UCL ESPRC DTP studentship
Value: Fees, Stipend (at least £20,668 per year), Research Training Support Grant
Duration: Up to 4 years (thesis to be submitted within funded period)
Eligible Fee Status: Home, International (EPSRC caps the total number of funded International fee status students across UCL for this award at 30%)
Study Mode: Full or Part time (at least 50% FTE) [Note: Part time is not available to International students]
Primary Selection Criteria: Academic merit
Project ID: 2228bd1128 (You will need this ID for your application)
Application Deadline: 12:00 on 26 January 2023

How to apply

This PhD Studentship topic is one of 19 proposed by The Bartlett School of Environment, Energy and Resources to a competition for approximately 60 studentships that will be awarded across UCL as part of the UCL EPSRC DTP. Prospective students are welcome to apply for up to 5 potential studentships - see the full list of projects from our department and the UCL project database for a comprehensive list across the university. The 60 successful proposals will be chosen following applicant interviews.

Before applying, all applicants must read the full eligibility criteria and application guidance on the UCL EPSRC DTP website. There is a 3-part application process, with a deadline of the 26 January 2023 to complete the third part of the application.