UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering


Studentship: A novel ‘OLFACTORY’ methodology for assessing the presence of mould in UK building

13 July 2022

A 4 year EPSRC DTP Studentship exploring the olfactory perception of residents as a viable approach to standardise the assessment of indoor mould in residential properties.

Condensation on window

Key information


Primary Supervisor:

Secondary Supervisor:

The Successful candidate will also work with Cecilia Bembibre - Lecturer (Teaching) in Sustainable Heritage


The studentship will cover UK course fees and an enhanced tax-free stipend of approx. £18,600* per year for 4 years along with a substantial budget for research, travel, and activities.
*Exact amounts still to be confirmed by funders 


4 years starting 26 September 2022

Deadline for applications

  • Sunday 24 July 2022 23.59PM (UK time)

Jump to: Background | Studentship aims | Person specification | Application procedureFair recruitment/appeals processContacts


There is evidence from building owners and building practitioners that the number of UK homes affected by moisture-related problems appears to be much higher than those officially reported. Moisture in buildings may not only impact the thermal performance of buildings, but if it leads to mould growth, it could have a significant impact on their structural integrity and physical appearance and, most importantly, the health of occupants. This project will explore the olfactory perception of residents as a viable approach to standardise the assessment of indoor mould in residential properties.


According to the English Housing Surveys (EHS), the number of homes affected by moisture-related problems has decreased during the last decade. Percentages as low as 3% were reported to have condensation and mould problems (2019-20 EHS). However, evidence from the EFUS reports (2017) shows that 27% of households are affected by damp and/or mould on walls and ceilings. Likewise, recent evidence from SHELTER shows that almost 50% of the rented properties have mould, which is a significant issue for social housing landlords as those properties may not be fit for human habitation. This variability in the data lies in the surveyor's and tenants' poor understanding of visible mould and the inconsistent information collection methods. This project aims to tackle that problem by establishing a new methodology to assess moisture-related problems (presence of mould and dampness) based on the olfactory perception. Since the microbial volatile organic compounds (mVOCs) produced by moulds have a strong smell and are quickly released into the air, smelling 'damp' could be an effective indication of the existence of mould.

Find out more about olfactory research at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage.

Studentship aims

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. 

Person specification

Applicants should meet the UCL IEDE PhD Programme Entry Requirements. The following person specs would also be desirable

  • A bachelor’s degree with a minimum of upper second-class (2:1) honours or an overseas qualification of an equivalent standard.
  • A Master’s degree in science-related qualifications, preferably chemistry, engineering, or physics. Candidates without a Master’s degree may be admitted where suitable experience is demonstrated.
  • Previous experience in the built environment, building physics, microbiology, experimental work is preferable but not required.
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills (oral and written).

All applicants must also meet the minimum language requirements of UCL

Applicants should be familiar with the changes to EU and International Eligibility for UKRI funded studentships

Application procedure

Stage 1 – Eligibility and How to apply

Please submit a pre-application by email to Bartlett.BSEER-PhD-Admin bseer-phd-admin@ucl.ac.uk with Subject Reference: 4-year PhD studentship A novel ‘OLFACTORY’ methodology for assessing the presence of mould in UK building.

You pre- application should include the following:

Interested candidates are expected to submit a formal application to the PhD programme via the UCL admissions portal and reference '4-year PhD studentship A novel ‘OLFACTORY’ methodology for assessing the presence of mould in UK building'.

Stage 2 – Interview process

Only shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview.

  • For the interview shortlisted candidates will be asked to show proof of their degree certificate(s) and transcript(s) of degree(s), and proof of their fees eligibility.
  • The interview panel will consist of members of the supervisory team, 
  • The interview will include a short presentation from the candidate on their ideas of how to approach this PhD project.
  • Following the interview, the successful candidate will be invited to make a formal application to the UCL Research Degree programme for IEDE.

The Successful candidate will be undertaking this project in UCL at the main (Bloomsbury) campus and UCL Here East. For more information, please visit the UCL IEDE website.

Please note that candidates will be contacted at very short notice should they be considered for the studentship and invited to attend a formal interview.

Deadline for applications

Sunday 24 July 2022 23.59PM (UK time)

Interviews week commencing


Fair recruitment/appeals process

In line with EPSRC's updated terms and conditions, an appeals process is provided for unsuccessful applicants. There is always strong competition for funded studentships. If you receive a rejection for the applied position, it does not mean that you have been rejected for other funding opportunities or places at UCL you have applied to.

As applications are reviewed by panels of academic staff in a multi-step process, it will not be possible to request an appeal if you disagree with the outcome of your application on grounds of the academic assessment or judgement made.

However, if you think that the published process (as shown above) has not been followed, you may contact bseer-phd-admin@ucl.ac.uk   to raise your concern. Please clearly mark your email EPSRC STUDENTSHIP PROCESS APPEAL in the subject line. Your appeal and application will be reviewed by a panel considering this new information.


For further details about the admission process, please contact: Bartlett.BSEER-PhD-Admin bseer-phd-admin@ucl.ac.uk   

For any further details regarding the project, contact: Hector Altamirano h.altamirano-medina@ucl.ac.uk

Photo by Randy Laybourne on Unsplash