UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage


Cecilia Bembibre

Thesis title: To be confirmed

Primary supervisor: Prof. Matija Strlič
Secondary supervisor: Susanne Kuechler
Starting date: 2015
Projected completion date: 2018
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


Cecilia started researching the cultural history of smell for her undergraduate dissertation at the University of Buenos Aires. After obtaining a degree in Communication, she completed an MRes at UCL in Science and Engineering for Arts, Heritage, and Archaeology (SEAHA), which forms the basis for his current research. She is delighted to be able to make a small contribution to the wonderful history of Knole House. 

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)