'The smell of fear': feasibility study on the correlation of human smell and abnormal behaviour

Lead Research Organisation: City, University of London
Department Name: Sch of Engineering and Mathematical Sci


The proposal has been designed to explore a novel and holistic approach which will engage experts across the full spectrum of their skills-base, through a suite of short-term research activities that are linked in theme and approach, yet are highly adventurous and in areas highly speculative in nature, aiming to provide an effective means for better and non-invasive human monitoring for security applications. Prior studies have shown that human odours can provide relevant biological information about their 'sender' and a key target of this approach is the fusion of the analysis of this type of olfactory communication with associated physiological and behavioural indications. This shows advantages particularly when the other two major 'senses', i.e. the visual and acoustic, are functionally restricted, most frequently the case in security screening. The interdisciplinary approach proposed addresses the detection of human 'fear' - focusing on fear pheromone as a key physiological indicator and correlating the information with human abnormal behaviour. Although simple to describe in these terms, real success envisaged is only possible when factors across the spectrum from the chemical, physical, engineering to the social sciences and psychology are effectively integrated, rather than viewed in isolation. The work will target as an outcome being able to determine the viability and efficacy of such an integrated approach to the detection of these human alarm signals: applied in assessing the stress status of an individual and interpreting this in a security-critical context. The application domain will allow addressing the feasibility of novel methods based on this approach for the rapid and accurate identification of criminal or terrorist suspects in public areas, e.g. at airports, railway stations or approaching the London Olympics, with minimum disruption to routine operations.

Planned Impact

The project has been designed to make an impact beyond the confines of academia (as discussed above) and a breadth of impact will be created to several constituencies, as discussed below: 1. The wider public in general. Impact will come from the success of the research through a broadly study into the availability of a novel method for the rapid and accurate identification of criminal or terrorist suspects in public areas, e.g. at airports, railway stations or approaching the London Olympics while at the same time seeing minimum disruption to normal life and routine operations of our infrastructure. A significant impact would be avoiding the sort of massive disruption to the public and the significant financial losses that would be caused by terrorist attacks or major crime, especially with the upcoming Olympics in London. The public would expect to see only a safer and more pleasant environment in the UK and indeed worldwide as a result of the successful implementation of the outcomes of the project - a better environment for people to work in, to visit and to enjoy 2. The public sector and key stakeholders. The success of this feasibility study will not just provide the public sector and key stakeholders with valuable information arising from the success of the approaches taken through a study focusing on the impact of pheromones on social and individual behaviours. The work should equip the public sector with a cost-effective means to tackle these types of security-critical problems, aiming for the minimum compromises in terms of ethical and legal implications, and therefore allowing for significant savings to the public purse in reducing more visible, aggressive, expensive and ultimately disruptive security interventions. 3. The commercial private sector. Impact will be seen in UK industry being able to benefit from direct access to the published outcomes of the feasibility studies carried out through the partnership and developed both during the project period and subsequently, drawing upon the complementary expertise and the breadth of experience within the consortium across the disciplines involved To ensure that the maximum potential for impact is realized and the users and beneficiaries discussed have the opportunity to benefit from this research, several key accessible dissemination routes will be created. These include the publications (both traditional academic and more focused on the 'popular' press), open fora and conference and workshops organized to publicize the research outcome to industrial partners and academic communities. A website will be created and will be regularely updated, with the aim of informing the broader public of the direction of the work and possible outcomes. The skills of the City University Press Office will be used to underpin the work of the investigators to disseminate the results in 'non-scientific' terms to the wider public through major newspapers and the broadcast media, building on the international reputation of and contacts from City's Journalism Department.
Description The key contribution of the project is the design and implementation of pheromone sensors, with an aim to capture stress/deception-related signatures
Exploitation Route The findings have been published in the public domain, either to be taken forward by the security sector or by the social science community.
Sectors Healthcare,Security and Diplomacy

Description The findings have been reported through publications, conferences and workshops. It provides useful data for the security sector for the community in social sciences.
Description Centre of Excellence
Amount $38,000,000 (AUD)
Organisation Australian Research Council 
Sector Public
Country Australia
Start 10/2014 
End 10/2021
Description City University
Amount £95,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 90701EZ 
Organisation City, University of London 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2011 
End 12/2012
Description EU FP7 programme
Amount € 477,058 (EUR)
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 12/2013 
End 12/2016
Description Innovative Manufacturing
Amount £1,100,000 (GBP)
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2013 
End 02/2016
Description Joint International Project
Amount £12,000 (GBP)
Organisation The Royal Society 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2009 
End 02/2011
Description Home Office CAST 
Organisation Home Office
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Design of a novel drug sensor platform using the molecular imprinting polymer based technique to facilitate the creation of a variety of new drug sensors, meeting the increasing needs from the security sector and from the industry.
Collaborator Contribution Provision of detailed information and data, attendance at the project steering committee meetings; working with City University colleagues to conduct tests and offering the support in terms of the access to the laboratories at CAST and to drugs for which City University does not have a licences.
Impact Joint publications and joint proposals submitted
Start Year 2009
Description Smiths Detection 
Organisation Smiths-Detection
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Development of a novel drug sensor platform using the molecular imprinting polymer-based technique, which enables the creation of a suite of novel drug sensors in order to meet the increasing needs from the security sector and from the industry.
Collaborator Contribution providing City University with relevant commercial & market information and testing requirements based on their extensive experience of field trials and 'real world' testing; offering laboratory facilities available at the Smiths side in Watford; attending project progress meetings, providing test input and advice on the designed sensors
Impact Joint publications and submission of joint proposals to RCUK for further funding
Start Year 2012
Description international partnership 
Organisation Australian Research Council
Department Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics
Country Australia 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution International partnership with Australian Centre of Excellence via staff/student exchanges and joint funding applications
Collaborator Contribution Partnership with overseas Centres of Excellence to promote staff/student exchanges, joint funding applications and knowledge transfer.
Impact Two PhD students working on joint research programmes It is disciplinary: involving life sciences, biology, chemistry and engineering
Start Year 2014
Description smart contact lenses 
Organisation Tongji University Hospital
Country China 
Sector Hospitals 
PI Contribution Development of smart contact lenses by integration of optical fibre sensors into contact lenses for monitoring eye pressure for early detection of glaucoma. The principal aim of this project is to develop a novel technological solution to address an important challenge recognized by the World Health Organization as the second leading cause of blindness globally: glaucoma.
Collaborator Contribution The hospital has provided unique clinical environment for extensive testing of contact lenses through in vitro and in vivo analysis of IOP in animal eyes, when fitted with smart contact lenses and subjected to controlled changes in IOP
Impact Funding support from National Natural Science Foundation in China and Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK It is multi-disciplinary: involving visual sciences, engineering, physics and chemistry
Start Year 2015
Title Fibre-optic sensor 
Description An optic fibre sensor comprising an optic fibre (9) and a molecularly imprinted polymer (MIP) receptor (10) formed directly on said fibre (9), wherein: said polymer includes a fluorophore that fluoresces when exposed to a source of light, said MIP is selective for a particular drug of interest, and said fluorescence changes when said MIP is exposed to said drug of interest. 
IP Reference GB2502475 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2013
Licensed No
Impact This will make an impact on both the health and security sectors by providing on-site evidence in handling some specific drugs. Currently the University Enterprise Office is searching widely for potential licensees to take this further for commercialisation.