UCL News


Spring school explores secrets of security science

25 March 2010

Are our voices as distinctive as our fingerprints? Can we learn how to 'see' through walls with sound? Those were just two of the intriguing questions explored at UCL's Security Science Spring School.

Spherical microphone array and optical camera

A group of 25 students took part in the school at UCL SECReT, the university's security science doctoral research centre.

The two-day school, which was supported by the Economic Challenge Investment Fund (ECIF) through UCL Advances, was open to second- and third-year undergraduates and current masters students from UCL and other universities.

The participants came from a range of scientific departments, but all had demonstrated an interest in pursuing PhD research in this area.

The school gave them an understanding of what constitutes security science and developed their presentation, team-working and networking skills.

The students broke into groups of five to participate in multidisciplinary mini-projects with the support of UCL researchers.

The mini-projects included:

  • solving the problems of access control with tamper-resistant devices such as smart cards
  • understanding how to identify security problems systematically, using the example of crime in public places
  • investigating the size and shape of 'personal space', in the sense of a territory within which people feel secure
  • how spectroscopy - a technique used to assess the concentration or amount of a given chemical - is used in forensic and security science to identify the precise composition of unknown materials
  • designing, planning and executing an indoor field trial to investigate if gaps in optical surveillance can be filled using sound
  • understanding how recordings of speech can be used as evidence in forensic crime investigations or as means of identifying individuals.

Organiser Dr Hervé Borrion, who is Deputy Director of UCL SECReT, said: "The diversity of background within the spring school's participants reflects the unique vision behind UCL SECReT. In 2009, the centre has recruited 13 students with degrees ranging from forensics to architecture to work on security-related subjects.

"For example, three of our students are working on developing an enhanced vehicle x-ray inspection system with a UK company. They are using techniques from the fields of neuroscience, mathematics and medical physics to develop a system with both improved detection performance and a high usability level.

"In parallel, another student is examining public acceptability of whole-body scanners at airports with the view to bridging the gap between policy makers and technology designers. What is happening at UCL SECReT is really exciting and we are looking forward to recruiting even more high-calibre scientists this year."

One group of five students at the spring school received a £250 prize for a presentation on their winning mini-project 'Seeing With Sound'.

Dr Kevin Chetty (UCL Security and Crime Science), who supervised their mini-project, said: "The team took part in a cutting-edge research project using a high-specification acoustic camera to capture people's body movements for surveillance applications. I was most impressed by the way they quickly grasped technical concepts such as Doppler theory and Fourier analysis."

UCL SECReT was set up in 2009 with a £7million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and £10million of cash and in-kind support from industrial, academic and public sector partners to establish Europe's largest centre for doctoral training in security science.

The centre applies the latest techniques in a variety of disciplines to problems in the crime and security domain and promotes the new national standard in PhD training - a four-year degree programme.

For more information about UCL SECReT follow the link above.

Image: a spherical microphone array and optical camera, which formed part of the 'Seeing With Sound' mini-project.

UCL context

In December 2008 UCL won funding for seven new centres for doctoral training (CDTs). This gave UCL a total of nine CDTs created to 'generate the scientists needed for Britain's future'. Each centre receives around £6m in funding to pay for a total of about 400 students to take part in four-year doctorate programmes over five years.

Related links:
Mini-lecture: Professor Gloria Laycock on predicting and fighting crime
UCL unveils unique security 'SECReT'