UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage


Cecilia Bembibre

Thesis title: Smell of Heritage

Primary supervisor: Prof. Matija Strlič
Secondary supervisor: Susanne Kuechler
Starting date: 2015
Projected completion date: 2019
Sponsor (if applicable): EPSRC (CDT SEAHA), The National Trust, Odournet Ltd.

Our collective knowledge of the past is odourless. Yet, smells play a powerful role in our daily lives and individual memories can be considered part of our intangible cultural heritage, not only for their own value, but through their connections to language, tradition and tourism. This project aims to define historic smells in relation to heritage, and to highlight their value.

Research about scientific methods of analysis and documentation of smells are central to this project. The chosen methods are gas chromatography with mass spectrometric detection, preceded by solid-phase micro-extraction (SPME). Gas Chromatography Time of Flight Analysis (GC-TOF) and gas chromatography analysis with olfactometric detection (GC-O) are also being researched. 

Our vocabulary to talk about smells is very limited. Identifying the words to characterise heritage smells is part of the project, which is being explored via sensory evaluation and text mining of historic sources. 

A number of smells from Knole House (National Trust) are the focus of case study work involving capture, analysis and reproduction. Smells will be presented to the public to explore how historic odours affect the ways in which people interact with heritage sites. 

Follow the progress on the project on Twitter @ucqbbem and on the Smell of Heritage website.


Cecilia completed her PhD at UCL ISH / EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Science and Engineering in Arts, Heritage and Archaeology (SEAHA CDT) programme. She previously researched smell at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Buenos Aires. Cecilia is interested in an interdisciplinary approach to smell and the preservation of olfactory heritage. She collaborates with The National Trust, St Paul’s Cathedral and BMAG, as well as with industries exploring the potential of GC-O characterisation of historic odours. In addition, she has 15+ years of publishing and organisational experience.

Research interests

  • Historic smells
  • VOC analysis
  • GC sniffing
  • Vocabulary on Olfaction
  • Sensory analysis
  • Heritage interpretation

Awards and funding

  • 2013/15  The Birmingham Museums Trust Heritage Science Bursary
  • 2016/18  EPSRC SEAHA CDT Studentship (with The National Trust)