The smell travels through the vacuum why

Fragrance researcher - Sissel Tolaas has a fine nose and knows what Switzerland smells like

Sissel Tolaas has a fine nose and knows what Switzerland smells like

The Norwegian Sissel Tolaas collects odors - no matter whether it is a sweat or a floral scent. A few years ago she went on the prowl, sniffed snow and meadows, sewer shafts and money - armed with a funny device.

Switzerland actually doesn't smell bad at all. Somehow fresh and airy, you can feel fine notes of alpine meadows, red berries and light woods. And wasn't there a pinch of money too? If you didn't know that the lobby of the Swissôtel in Berlin is “scented”, you would honestly probably not notice the grades. Which of course happened quite deliberately, as the management says.

But how can you even capture the typical Swiss scent? “No problem,” laughs the fragrance researcher Sissel Tolaas and shakes her blond mane. On behalf of Swissôtel, she went on the prowl a few years ago, sniffing snow and meadows, sewer shafts and money - armed with a funny device. This is now in front of her on the conference table in her studio in the middle-class Berlin district of Wilmersdorf: a small blue box with a hose with an attachment dangling from it.

The fragrance researcher fiddles around with it while she explains the operation of her headspace device. Sissel Tolaas uses a vacuum to suck scent molecules from house walls, park benches, telephone receivers, items of clothing or even skin. In the next step, a chromatographer breaks down the smells into their individual chemical components in their laboratory. She then reproduces them synthetically - and stores them.

Smells are acquired

As a fragrance researcher and conceptual artist, the 50-year-old native of Norway tracks down smells that we normally don't attach much importance to - or that we consider unpleasant. "There are no good or bad smells, everything smells delightful in its own way - even a dead body," claims Sissel Tolaas. It took her a few years before she was able to approach fragrances in a completely neutral way. Today she can even smell body sweat or dog feces without any problems. “If we smell a cheese, we like it too. Almost the same components are included as with foot sweat. " Our judgment about smells is not a genetic, but an educated thing, she concludes.

She stumbles into the next room where her laboratory is located. The walls are full of shelves where flacons, bottles and cylinders are lined up, around 7000 pieces. She reaches for a bottle with David Beckham's foot sweat, dabs a strip of paper and holds it under the visitor's nose. Amazingly, it doesn't smell really bad.

Sissel Tolaas wants to stop the decline of the nose. "Today we forgot how to use our nose," she says in verve, repeatedly falling into English and jumping up again because she really wants to show another scent. This time it's whale. The inexperienced nose may already appreciate this scent much less - and one inevitably shrinks back.

The fragrance expert is on the next topic. She sees herself as a champion for her own body odor. It is horrible how people remove their own body odor with deodorants, fabric softeners and perfumes. «We hardly know how we really smell ourselves. We eat with our nose, we choose our partners with our nose. " Humans have the potential to distinguish 10,000 fragrances, while the human eye can only distinguish a few hundred colors, she continues. "Not only do we have receptors in our noses, but also on our skin, we can react to scents everywhere." But we only use 20 percent of it.

The industry has long since become aware of this lateral thinker. The New York company International Fragrances and Flavor, for example, provided her with the laboratory in Berlin. For them she is working on the future. "One day scent molecules could be used for identification: body odor instead of fingerprint." Fragrances could one day also be useful in the therapy of war traumatized, she looks further into the future.

Invisible communication

A wide field that could open up there. That is why their knowledge is in great demand. She teaches "invisible communication" at the Faculty of Research at Harvard Business School. Your clients are multinationals like Adidas or Johnson & Johnson, but also banks. The mathematician and chemist is therefore a frequent traveler. She is currently on the move to New York, where she will give a lecture on smells at the World Science Festival. Then she travels to Poland to hold a workshop for children. In between, she will do a fragrance tour through the city in Berlin.

In the meantime, the room has filled with a scent mixture of basil, foot sweat, North Sea air, roses and dog excrement. An abundance that is difficult to take all at once. You are therefore not unhappy to be able to leave the room again. Just out - into the fresh Berlin city air. "Go to the Jannowitz Bridge," she calls afterwards. "There Berlin still smells like the GDR."