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UCL Department of Security and Crime Science

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Areas of study

UCL SECReT supports a wide array of doctoral research, grouped under four themes: design and technology, crime and security analysis, forensic science, and future crime.

You can find out more about these four research themes below, although please note that they are not exhaustive so feel free to get in touch if you are unsure whether or not we can support your area of interest. Before applying for a PhD with us, it is important to make contact with a potential supervisor at UCL who is an expert in your subject and may be willing to supervise you. Some potential supervisors are listed in the topic areas below. To get an idea of the breadth of PhD topics, here is a list of completed research projects:

Completed PhD projects
  • "Explosive residue: evaluation and optimisation of detection and sampling procedures" Nadia Abdul-Karim
  • "The importance of trace evidence interpretation for forensic reconstruction" Mark Amaral
  • "Landmine, IED, UXO detection using ground penetrating radar from an unmanned aerial vehicle" Amin Amiri
  • "Understanding and preventing criminal disruption of infrastructure networks, focusing on railway disruption" Matthew Ashby
  • "Automatically identifying causes of security non-compliance through sentiment analysis" Ingolf Becker
  • "Detecting and mitigating Sybil attacks" Cerys Bradley
  • "To what extent can forensic evidence aid in the investigation and prosecution of internal child sex trafficking (ICST)?" Helen Brayley
  • "Numerical modelling, empirical analysis of civil conflict" Lucy Burton
  • "An investigation into 3D printing of osteological remains: the metrology and ethics of virtual anthropology" Rachael Carew
  • "Inorganic approaches for the analysis of soils/sediments and discerning mixed provenance samples" Kelly Cheshire
  • "Improving the understanding of and responses to internal child sex trafficking in the UK: an empirical multi-method analysis" Ella Cockbain
  • "Complex systems approaches to issues in crime and security" Toby Davies
  • "An experimental study evaluation of the detection of snares in UAV images" Dorothea Delpech
  • "Decision-making within fingermark quality assessment processes" Helen Earwaker
  • "Towards the situational prevention of organised crimes: extortion" Patricio Estevez Soto 
  • "The transfer, persistence and secondary transfer of gunshot residue (GSR): implications for crime reconstruction and forensic protocol studied using Bayesian modelling" James French
  • "Experiential bias in intelligence analysis" Mohamed Gaballa
  • "Detection of trace explosives in the wastewater system: applications for forensic intelligence" Sally Gamble
  • "Analysis of transferred fragrance and its forensic implications" Simona Gherghel
  • "The Chain of Evidence - a critical appraisal of the applicability and validity of forensic research and the usability of forensic evidence" Dagmar Heinrich
  • "Money laundering - how do criminals handle their ill-gotten revenues and what can we do about it?" Florian Hetzel
  • "An array of n-p semiconducting heterojunction sensors used as a tool for explosive detection" Lauren Horsfall
  • "Modelling and optimising police patrol" Oliver Hutt
  • "Establishing PMI using NMR" Saravanan Kanniappan
  • "Engineering IT risk awareness, education and training" Iacovos Kirlappos
  • "Towards a usable and less disruptive security in the workplace" Kat Krol
  • "Twitter as a population representation: inferring human behaviour and activity in time and space through social media" Alistair Leak
  • "Exploring the spatial and temporal dynamics of environmental particulate trace evidence" Emma Levin
  • "Spatial decision-making of terrorist target selection" Zoe Marchment
  • "Is HPLC a useful addition to current geo-forensic analytical techniques" Georgia McCulloch
  • "Developing analytical Blood Pattern Analysis (BPA) techniques for environmentally altered bloodstains; and examining the range and influence of visualisation methods available for BPA presentation in the context of jury decision-making" Hester Miles
  • "The effect of cognitive bias in forensic science" Sherry Nakhaeizadeh
  • "Metal oxide semiconductor gas sensors as an electronic nose for the detection of microbial agents" Emma Newton
  • "Developing tools for anticipating and mitigating the negative societal impact, while preserving the positive impact, of security technologies for use by the developers of these technologies upstream in the design process" Timothy Nissen
  • "Mathematical modelling to establish the effectiveness of countermeasures to radicalisation" Rosemary Penny
  • "The detection of clandestine metamphetamine laboratories using semiconducting metal oxide sensor technologies" David Pugh
  • "The use of gunshot residue as an item of trace evidence" Michaela Regan
  • "Applications of diatom analysis in forensic geoscience: developing a new technique for the comparative assessment of trace geological evidence" Kirstie Scott
  • "Migrant networks, policy and decision-making" Miranda Simon
  • "The use of Bayesian networks to develop frameworks for the interpretation and presentation of forensic evidence" Nadine Smit
  • "The detection and analysis of sharp-force trauma on using 3D-photogrammetry techniques" Sian Smith
  • "Using smartphone applications to record real-time, spatially located information from large groups of people about their perceptions of safety (fear of crime) in the built environment (London)" Reka Solymosi
  • "Crime drop in Chile: searching for causes and mechanisms" Hugo Soto
  • "How new ways of spatial analysis can improve the geographical understanding of illegal drug markets and the distribution of drug-related crime" Lusine Tarkhanyan
  • "Assessing the potential of metal oxide semiconducting gas sensors for illicit drug detection" Paula Tartellin 
  • "Spatio-temporal patterns of terrorism" Stephen Tench
  • "What are the factors that make communities vulnerable to, or resistant against, the emergence of radicalising settings?" Amy Thornton
  • "Increasing efficiency of security procedures to detect explosives on metro rail networks through analysis of human errors" Kartikeya Tripathi
  • "The role of geo-forensic analysis for establishing the journey histories of illicit materials and IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices)" Beth Wilks
  • "Resilience of criminal organisations" Sanaz Zolghadriha

Design and technology

Chemical sensors

In collaboration with UCL Chemistry, UCL SECReT students have been involved in the development of sensors and analytical decides for the detection of explosives, narcotics, and biological agents. PhD projects have included metal oxide semiconducting gas sensors and n-p semiconducting heterojection sensors.

Potential supervisors

Prof Ivan Parkin


Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is of increasing importance to society, companies, and governments. UCL academics are performing cutting-edge research in many aspects of cybersecurity: from the very foundation of secure communications (cryptography), to the development of privacy enhancing technologies, to researching techniques that counter malicious activity on the internet. In the interdisciplinary spirit that characterises UCL SECReT, much of this research covers aspects that go beyond the purely technical ones, such as human factors, usability, and the prevention of cybercrime through a deep understanding of this criminal ecosystem.

Potential supervisors

Dr David Clark 
Dr Nicolas Courtois
Prof Steve Hailes
Prof David Pym 
Prof Angela Sasse 
Dr Shi Zhou


Ethics and technology

Students working in the field of ethics and technology have collaborated with UCL Computer Science.

Potential supervisors

Prof Angela Sasse


Radar

Research areas under this topic include: radar systems and signal processing (including bi-static and netted radar), multifunction phased array radar, waveform design, synthetic aperture radar, non-cooperative target recognition, sonar signal processing, and synthetic aperture sonar.

Potential supervisors

Prof Paul Brennan
Dr Kevin Chetty
Prof Hugh Griffiths


UAVs

Micro and small UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles - often referred to as drones) are now widely available. They are highly versatile, and are used by members of the public, law enforcement agencies, and criminals. Many UCL students have had the opportunity to carry out research inolving the development or application of UAVs.

Potential supervisors

Dr Hervé Borrion
Dr Simon Julier


X-ray scanners

The low false alarm rate of x-ray diffraction, combined with the reduce need for manual inspections, can dramatically improve screening effectiveness and detection performance. We hope that the researched carried out at SECReT will lead to the next generation of cargo imaging systems.

Potential supervisors

Dr Lewis Griffin
Prof Ryan Nichol


Crime and security

SECReT students are renowned for conducting internationally leading research explaining how crime events occur and affect complex systems, either in the physical world or in cyberspace. Their work focuses on: understanding what influences criminal decision-making, the patterning of crime events in time and space, crime reporting, intelligence analysis, and security operations, and directly informs the design of prevention policies and security measures. In this research stand, students typically come from political science, crime science, psychology, geography, computer science, statistics, and mathematics. During their PhD, they develop a strong theoretical knowledge in social and behavioural sciences, along with advanced skills for complex systems analysis. 

Big data analysis

Potential supervisors

Prof Tao Cheng
Dr Anthony Hunter
Prof Paul Longley
Prof John Shawe-Taylor
Dr Jinghao Xue
Dr Jun Wang


Ecological modelling

The UCL Agent-Based Modelling group is run by SECReT students, and offers a friendly and vibrant environment to learn this powerful research technique.

Potential supervisors

Dr Hervé Borrion
Prof Kate Bowers
Dr Spencer Chainey
Prof Shane Johnson
Dr Simon Julier 


Geographical analysis

Many crimes involve an important geographic component, and a greater understanding of why certain crimes happen in certain places and at certain times, can help prevent them in the future. This can be accomplished through the use of geospatial analyses, which apply (often unique and complex) statistical techniques to geographic spaces.

Potential supervisors

Dr Matt Ashby
Prof Kate Bowers
Dr Spencer Chainey
Prof Tao Cheng
Dr James Cheshire
Prof Nicola Christie
Dr Toby Davies
Prof Muki Haklay
Prof Shane Johnson
Prof Paul Longley
Prof Mirco Musolesi
Dr Lisa Tompson
Dr Jinghao Xue
Dr Jun Wang


Human error analysis

SECReT students working in the field of human error analysis have collaborated with UCL Computer Science, with recent projects considering the implications of human error within the contexts of cybersecurity, intelligence analysis, and metro rail network safety procedures.

Potential supervisors

Dr Hervé Borrion
Dr Spencer Chainey
Prof Angela Sasse
Dr Jun Wang


Scripting and processing analysis

Crime scripts and security scripts are two technical terms that refer to the procedural aspects of crime and security operations. These models are routinely generated to describe sequences of events. In recent years, they have become instrumental in understanding offenders' decision-making processes, and specifying detailed requirements for more effective crime prevention measures.

Potential supervisors

Dr Hervé Borrion
Dr Noémie Bouhana
Prof Kate Bowers
Dr Spencer Chainey
Prof Paul Gill
Prof Shane Johnson
Dr Lisa Tompson
Prof Richard Wortley


Social network analysis

Potential supervisors

Dr Hervé Borrion
Dr Spencer Chainey
Prof Paul Gill


Forensic science

Forensic science is a dynamic discipline that is increasingly providing solutions to many problems faced in the detection and countering of crime and terrorism. Our inherently multidisciplinary and distinctive approach to the forensic sciences incorporates disciplines within the sciences, social sciences and humanities to address all stages of the forensic science process from the crime scene, to the analysis of evidence, to the interpration of those results, and their presentation to a court. All of our research seeks to address the need for empirical evidence bases for developing crime reconstructions. Such research will enable the forensic sciences to continue to make valuable contributions to the national and internatinoal justice systems.

Students have a range of backgrounds, and during their PhD they develop a strong understanding of a particular forensic science domain. They will also develop theoretical frameworks to enable more robust inference and interpretation of the significance and weight of intelligence and evidence to be achieved. The focus of research projects within the forensic sciences broadly fall in two domains: trace evidence dynamics, and interpretation of evidence. Key research areas within these domains include:

  • DNA
  • Fingerprints
  • Forensic geoscience (soils, sediments, pollen, diatoms etc.)
  • Trace evidence (Gun Shot Residue, explosives, fibres, paint etc.)
  • Cognitive forensics (decision-making, cognitive issues)
  • Forensic archaeology and forensic anthropology
  • Inference and interpretation (Bayes Nets, Inductive Logic Programming)

Trace evidence dynamics

Potential supervisors

Prof Ruth Morgan


Interpretation of evidence

Potential supervisors

Prof Ruth Morgan
Dr Sherry Nakhaeizadeh


Future crime

Technological and societal change leads inevitably to new types of crime. The Dawes Centre for Future Crime identifies emerging crime threats and works to deliver pre-emptive interventions for the benefit of society. The Dawes Centre was founded with £7m funding from the Dawes Trust and UCL, and aims to focus on key questions such as "which emerging crimes should we focus upon, given limited resources?" and "how can we mitigate future threats?" The Dawes Centre works with UCL SECReT to fund PhD students to work on topics of interest to its research agenda. If you are interested in applying for one of these scholarships, you can find list of these topics on the PhD scholarships webpage, as well as guidance for those who wish to propose their own topics in this area.