THE Brain CONTAINER
Inside the Brain Container, the conversation between Fabien Beckers, founder of the Invention Factory in San Francisco, and Sissel Tolaas, a Berlin-based artist and researcher known for her work on smells, transforms into an exchange of experiences which are as diverse as they are complimentary. Both are blessed with a curiosity for the world around them and a desire to use knowledge as a means for changing it for the better.
conceived and curated by Linda Loppa
produced by NAM – Not a Museum
11 themed containers hosting a series of 11 conversations between notable figures from all over the world, with expertise in a wide variety of sectors, including fashion, design, science, art, and literature. A balancing act between opposing views to rediscover the joy of speaking together, with the moderation of Linda Loppa, curator of the project.
“We work together; there is a creative director, a curator, a planner, a dreamer, a technician, a budgeter, a producer, a writer, a communicator, a scientist, a researcher; we sit together, as a real team to give a project form and substance and content. We discuss, inspire each other, we work, we suggest, we make, we do, we try, we make errors (not too many), we work! We share our knowledge with all the other containers around the world; we blog, we write, we publish.”
Inside the Brain Container, the conversation between Fabien Beckers, founder of the Invention Factory in San Francisco, and Sissel Tolaas, a Berlin-based artist and researcher known for her work on smells, transforms into an exchange of experiences which are as diverse as they are complimentary. Both are blessed with a curiosity for the world around them and a desire to use knowledge as a means for changing it for the better. Fabien Beckers, with the heritage of California’s art and pioneering spirit, is a firm believer in new ideas emerging from the intersection of science and humanistic knowledge and exchange between professions. Philosophy, economics, anthropology, psychology, artificial intelligence, engineering, journalism: the brain does not naturally perceive distinctions between these sciences, rather it intuits creative potential. Sissel Tolaas carries out research into scent and has compiled an archive of over 10,000 smells from all over the world. Driven by the awareness that a balance between the five senses is essential for human well-being, she explores a world that is often side-lined. Traditionally, society identifies binary categories which guide our perception and knowledge; dirty/clean, right/wrong, yes/no. And yet there is so much beyond these distinctions, and what is fascinating is that the key to discovering it can be found with the human body and all the tools it is equipped with. From this container of ideas a vision emerges, one of breaking down barriers between sectors, between people and between the senses, creating a more holistic form of knowledge which is deeper and broader than the sum of the individual areas, served by technology rather than vice versa, One concept emerges above all else as a point of reflection: tolerance.
THE BRAIN CONTAINER | A CONVERSATION BETWEEN SISSEL TOLAAS & FABIEN BECKERS
Dear Fabien, dear Sissel, welcome to this conversation.
It’s a kind of a coincidence that I thought to bring you together. Because you have both such an amazing career, so much experience in human research and in anthropology, and I feel we can learn a lot from your experiences. Sissel, explain this kind of passion of you searching for smell but also for individual memory.
I still breathe every breath; I inhale and melt molecules of interest. It is an endless journey and an endless passion. The topic of smell, molecule, the invisible reality that’s around us, contains multiple components that determine who we are, where we are and what’s going on. Unfortunately, we live in a world that’s driven by how things look. We tend to overlook the importance of smell as utter meaning – beyond, of course, the commercial application we know so much and so well. And at one point marketing took over where science left off. What I have tried to do with my work is literally bring back science. Look into what is here, what is breathing? What does the air contain beyond the obvious reason for having it around us. For over 25 to 30 years, I’ve been analysing, investigating into small components, through chemistry, anthropology, and archaeology. And the list is long. There are smells everywhere. There’s a whole world to smell and there’s a whole world to educate how to smell. So, yes, it’s amazing and what it also does to me as a human is that it makes life and being alive, complex and complete again. And I have been understanding the sense of smell even more now in lockdown and with the issue that we are all concerned about, how important it is to use all the senses for the purpose of life. So, yes, I am giving that full, full, time attention, and, there’s never a dull moment.
I see that, you’re still as passionate as I ever since I have known you. There is a kind of connection with Fabien because Fabien you have to explain your research work and the Cloud Based Medical Imaging Software, that you worked on.
Nice to meet you Sissel, your work is so inspiring and fascinating. Recently I was thinking about combining two worlds in my life. The first world is a world of creativity, and that can take several forms of innovation, and the power of ideas and the other world is a world of impact. I love the idea of combining them together to have a human impact.
A lot of the work I did recently was to develop new ways of healthcare. This notion of really trying to invent something that will drive and change the way we will manage our health and our patient care. And so, we did that by launching a new platform. Today the way healthcare is being provided, even today through Covid, is often very opiniated. A physician sees you and makes a recommendation based on a very small amount of information about yourself and about all the other patients in the world. They don’t have access to the data to really help you. When you drive from a place A to B and you have a GPS, you have far more information than a physician has for you. We can leverage the power of the internet and the power of the data to inform and help and assist physicians with all the data to diagnose better and help patients in a better way. And that’s what we’ve done.
Nobody thought when we started to use a browser and AI to diagnose patients around the world clinically. We did more than 100,000 of them, a lot of work on new-born heart defects, which is actually interesting. It’s very graphically beautiful as well, you can see the blood flow inside the body with all the colours going in different vessels –it is very artistic in a way. We’ve done a lot of work for cancer, which was very gratifying and more to come, so, trying to move the needle a little bit and impact patients’ lives by helping physicians.
Your ideas come from the crossroads of science and humanities, is that also a lesson for the fashion industry? Sissel you did some smell events for Balenciaga last year.
I’m still working passionately with Balenciaga and this Sunday we are presenting the next collection with another smell, so that’s an ongoing journey. I do work with a corporate world. I need to survive somehow, selling invisibility is not so successful these days and maybe now it will change. I hope so.
I’m kind of putting myself between hardcore research, innovation and commercial work and most of all education, trying to combine the four because it is very important for what I do.
One is dependent on the other and I think what I have accomplished is somehow that I can be a role model for a lot of young people showing them it’s possible to modify knowledge for multiple purposes. I think it is most important that the knowledge is solid and the commitment essential. That is half of my success story, to show and bring that across in every aspect of what I do. Also, in the context of commercial application I am not interested in making another perfume. There is enough of it out there and I have nothing against it. I just think there is the need to understand this dimension of life which goes invisible. With the knowledge that is there we can use it for a purpose, not only to cover up the world, but also to reveal the world with the same knowledge. My position here is literally to take up that challenge; knowledge, brings the real world into a corporation, in this context IFF, who have been supporting my research for the last 15 years. Challenge the knowledge from within and bring it together with the knowledge outside, literally bringing science and the corporation to real life. Connect them to the issues of the world, which is so very difficult for so many corporations to really get access to. I’m kind of the catalyst out there, I think I can say.
Fabien, after those previous experiences, you are interested in the art world and you have founded IF studio. Tell us about the idea behind the studio.
I think I have this kind weird background, because my whole childhood was around art and my parents were in art. My friends are in art. At the same time, I’m deep into science, as I always found it absolutely fascinating. The idea was of connecting the dots.
Sissel, you mentioned about how you go through art, science and education. I think they’re all interconnected, interweaved and I always wanted to find a place, to gather under one roof in some way, an artist, next to an engineer, next to a physician, next to a philosopher, next to an anthropologist, to really start launching an organization for social good. A better education in art and science. The idea would be to be able to, not be an architectural building but an architectural organization, able to look at the biggest world problems, having all the talents from these cross-disciplinary functions, to be able to address them in a new way. In physics, we’ve seen that if you send an input, you get to the same output. But if you change radically the input, you also change radically the output. By bringing very different points of view around the table, you enable a new way of thinking. Sissel you’re bringing that a lot to your work, around smell; Neri Oxman at MIT Media Lab, has done that by connecting biology and architecture. Apple stands for that kind of connection. I think there are a lot of ways to affect education, healthcare, homelessness, all the big problems, climate change, in a new way. Surprisingly it doesn’t exist and the idea was to call it IF, and IF stands for Invention Factory; you can create an IF in the US, an IF in Africa, an IF in Europe, an IF in Asia, an IF in the Middle East to also cross-pollinate across cultures. And launch, for-profits because we have a non-profit, but also our products. That’s something I’m passionate about. It’s like bridging different fields to grow from anthropology to sociology, to physics, to healthcare, to different works, I think is so enriching. And there are always dots and connections.
I feel that what you’re saying about this complex way of bridging all different people and experiences is missing in education, especially in fashion education. Am I right?
It is missing everywhere. I think it can be leveraged for so many different ways of seeing the world. In the 1500s, the Renaissance was all about interconnecting those fields. And then they branched out to be very siloed. But now we see a lot of those cross-connections. I felt that to invent a new world, we really need to bring them back together more than ever before.
Sissel, what I wrote about your work is that smell can help tolerance.
Yes, we are born neutral. Humans, cockroaches and rats are the biggest generalist on planet earth and the purpose of smell and the nose, and we not only have sensors in the nose, all over the skin, the kidneys have sensors, the egg smell, the sperm, etcetera, the list is long. We cope with whatever smell setting there is, we get used to it and it’s not for other reasons that the nose gets tired very quickly. Because it adjusts to suck the situation and immediately it copes with it and it has to survive. We live in a world that’s sanitized, sterilized and now even more than ever, for protection, kind of. But we are missing out the core information; the body and the system are suffering. We are living in a world where we are operating around bad and good and clean and dirty, yes and no. And that is not enough. That’s a very superficial type of information. Smell is very important here to become neutral towards a smell beyond those you know. All the marketing and the rhetoric out there is essential to be able to face all of these issues we are confronting.
What I try to do in my work is to take real smells, record them, replicate them through chemistry, reproduce them, decontextualize them, take them out of their comfort zone, place them in a comfortable setting and train awareness until that awareness is beyond doubt. Then with that in the backpack, go back to reality, without any prejudice whatsoever, we can be tolerant towards skin, colour, religion, and so on. But if the smell is not right, that’s the end of the sympathy. That is what is ruining most of the world. Again, back to education, we’ll need to teach our kids to accept, not only what is there for the eye, but also what is there for the nose. And we start our lives using all our senses.
Going back to what you said, about creativity, to be creative, it’s like being a child, it’s like never stopping being a child. Being curious is using all your sense of being curious, getting information provided by the senses, into your body and your brain and your memory, and triggering your memory and your emotions, and off we go. Learning in a context of emotion is essential to learning. It’s not for any other reason that we learn most between zero and puberty. Whatever we learn later might stay there, but definitely what we’ve learned at that period stays because we learn in a context of play and enjoy all our senses. These are just facts and I try to apply those facts to whatever I do and if I do work with the CEOs of Deutsche Bank, or the kindergarten in my neighbourhood, nobody leaves those workshops without a big smile on their face. You know why? Because they just smell the reality they live in and all that they can smell is the fragrance or detergent or the soap they normally use, but the garbage, the dog shit, the dirty street, tells quite a lot; we’re cheating too much. And tolerance is a key word here.
I can continue to listen because this is such an incredible, fascinating topic. I think that smell is fascinating because it is also closer to the brain, connected to the brain. It’s one of the only senses that is not spatial which is really interesting, because it creates a surrounding right away. Sissel, maybe you can correct me if that’s wrong, but I’ve heard that the centre of the universe tastes of rum and raspberries, because of Ethyl Formate, which is basically alcohol with other basic compounds.
Some of the molecules, the first molecules on the planet are still around, so we might say, pass on, some of the same molecules. I might blow it out and you get it in three days later. That is the world that I think needs to be taken a little bit more seriously especially after so many people lost the sense of smell. Suddenly they wake up like, “Oh my God, I didn’t know I had one!”
The knowledge is there, not just in chemistry, which is my background. Look at neuroscience, look at psychology, look at anthropology, look at every aspect of science. The knowledge around smell is so much more advanced than it was when I started 25 years ago. Nobody knew “what are you doing, are you making another perfume?” I said, “no, I don’t think the world needs one!”. Even then I dared to say that. But the fact that I work with some huge corporations, and they don’t approach me to make another fragrance or a room spray, they approach me for discovering who are we, on behalf of how we smell.
I have the skill and the knowledge and the technology to show them how that smells. I think this is the new future after having, scaled down, understood so much more about life and being alive, how vulnerable one is. We have something for sure, and that is the body and the senses, everything else costs money, first we need to recharge and re-educate how to use what we have for free. And then, I think the rest can follow.
First of all, we have a smell ID as unique as our fingerprint, hardly anybody knows this, and because we’ve never had a chance – we smell our mother’s deodorant before we smell our mother’s milk. We should try to find out what’s going on before we start to add on, in all the aspects of adding on. And I think that is part of what education should be, and then we can fully apply it if it’s needed. And if not, at least we know why not. Less is more in this utter meaning. That’s what I try to say. In the context of application or communication, of course, you carefully can apply a smell. And if it’s only about you knowing what the purpose of the smell is, that’s enough. You program your brain to be in a certain mood or make the smell do half of the communication, that is already something different. I think it’s very complex and very beautiful to work with smell because it has a huge potential.
I think smell is so subjective and so powerful, but I would love to know Sissel, why for you it was so obvious? Why did you build your career on smell and carry on with smell? Did you know why?
I grew up in Iceland, Norway. I was passionate about the outdoor and never ever was interested in wearing any perfume or deodorant. I was just very curious about air and why air is so important, especially in the Northern hemisphere. Why air brings weather, why air is the number one topic of small talk in the world. Why air is so many things. And starting to ask very naive questions around this invisibility that filled me with so much more than I know and knew at that point. So, it’s a very naive, childish kind of process and the reason for doing what I do.
Back to what I said in the beginning, literally I never stopped being a child. Never stopped being, just relying on what I see. I always suffered, and being born on an island, I grew up on an island, it made me, you know, the topic of being curious was in my genes. I decided to try it out, to try literally to be my own guinea pig and see what the purpose of the senses is meant to be. And what if I turn on and off and amplify some of the senses more than the others, what would that bring to me? Would I become different? Would I change something? Would I understand the world I live in better? And the answer is yes.
Seven years of fieldwork, traveling the globe, using my sense of smell as a navigator made me another human being. And this passion and commitment I have today is because of that. I dared to jump out in that deep water that surrounded my island, and I couldn’t even swim. So, yes, that is what I mean with the passion and commitment, which is so very little in all aspects of education. Educate our kids to have a passion, to find that passion, how do we do that? I think the key here is to look into what the body is, what are the body and the mind and the soul and the senses all about. To start, the biology, psychology, the chemistry. Then off we go with all the other innovations and you name it, technology, etcetera. But first we need to have the basics in place.
So, to make a long story short, off I went, I went as far I could get away from home. I went to Eastern Europe, and then in Eastern Europe I couldn’t find any material. I was literally dependent on the air I was breathing. And I was in the middle of the revolution, of the falling of the wall. And I was hiding in the bushes, trying to make sense of the world, smelling and smelling and recording and recording and I understood that, it made me survive, not having to rely on semiotics, semantics and vision. I could rely on a lot of information and make sense out of it and have a fun time, even if I was suffering. That’s my background and then I, of course, studied chemistry, linguistics. And I thought very early on, I cannot sit in the lab, pretending I know about life. Working with the topic of smell when I know smell is happening outside in the real life. I decided to add on art and innovation so that I had a platform where I could perform and show my research in the real life.
I perform and I do research using my name on the platform rather than sitting in the lab, writing papers, having to refer and to rethink this and we should do that, etcetera. I pose the questions, I find the answer, if I don’t find the answer, I move on to the next step using the creative platform where it doesn’t matter who you are, as long as you deliver, that was very important for where I am today. I have to have that freedom to just explore what it means to be a human being and to be alive. That’s what I do. Real and reality is my topic of concern.
Fabien, It’s not about me, it’s about all of us. So, tell me your story.
I think my story is about this notion of very different worlds that are being part of art and at the same time I did my science and I did physics and I did quantum physics for a long time. And then I went into innovation and tried to bring an impact. I just love the notion of talking to you and I talked a few days ago to someone about healthcare and then I talked to a designer about interactive. I just I love the fun of working on different topics. Working with someone creative can be a very spiritual, transcendental experience as for example working on connecting light with sound, for example. Other people tried to build a way to measure EEG and brain activity, for example.
I think this is really what I love, to be able to go deep in those different fields and explore them. I’m very curious, like you, and I just want to learn from all these different people. When we were at my last company, we had some really powerful moments when we had a physician calling us and we had an impact on the life of a newborn who had a heart problem, and he was just one day old or two days old then. We made the difference in his family and in the kid’s life. And I think there’s nothing beyond that for me. I think this is the ultimate feeling of being fulfilled in one’s work or one’s life. And I just want to try to do more of that. I realized the best way to do that for me in my weird brain is to connect all those different people and feel together and try to align them to try to solve a problem.
I think that connecting is wanting, but also to actually do it, is very important. I’m tired of talking and now the next thing is to really develop something that has substance. I’m a doer. I don’t even have a website because I’m in the field all the time and being there is half of my job. That is the, maybe, disadvantage of having so much passion for some reason you never really want to stop.
Suddenly you discover that you better kind of sit down and sum up a bit. The only moment you discover that is when all the copycats come and literally imitate what you do. You’re paving the way, and then they ignore the references. I think absolutely, I am a doer, trying to make things happen and trying to have impact is, I think, essential here. For all the knowledge production that we have done for so many years like you and me and others, and also Linda, now is the time to really see how we can give that back to the world in a way that benefits the world and makes the world a better one for everyone. Not only for a little, small élite, call it fashion, art or tech; I think the moment is there.
Sissel, what did you learn from creating a life around smell? Because I’m sure you have a different way of looking at the world or smelling the world through that journey, and what did you learn from it?
Most of all I’ve learned to be tolerant, like you’ve said Linda. Tolerance is a big issue in my work and the fact that I am so tolerant is that I discovered what I didn’t know existed. Back to curiosity, it’s like there is no limit for where curiosity can take you.
The fact that we are equipment interfaces, called sensors – five – they are just the umbrella and underneath each we have multiple other variations of balance, cold and hot, etcetera… there is a purpose for why the senses are there and if we don’t use them properly, we are not happy. I think the biggest illness of our time is this embodiment with technology taking over where humans left off; it is really problematic.
First, we need to understand what the senses can do and are capable of doing beyond what we thought they could do. I think this is what I’ve accomplished in my work also to include the sense of smell properly in the moment of perception and understanding the function of the other senses as well, because there is a balance there.
All the senses are always happening simultaneously, so it’s just being aware and also to train the senses the way you train your muscles, you can train the senses to turn them on and off. It’s amazing to understand the capacity of what the body is able to do. And this had made me a much happier human being just to know that, wow, I’m so independent. I just need all that I’m equipped with, that’s it.
That was for me the biggest wake-up call, the moment I discovered that the air contained particles I can’t see, but they are there and I can catch them somehow and if I have the right tool, that was for me, like a Newton apple falling on the head, it was like, wow, that’s it. That kind of discovery changed my life. I’m never going back to where I was before I discovered what impact smell can have in my life.
How do you see the difference between a smell and taste? are they two different things?
It’s the same taste, it’s the same sense, literally. You have five or more directions of taste, and then you have, I don’t know how many trillion directions of smells. Every breath you take, you inhale up to 26 sextillion molecules, it’s unbelievable, it’s massive. And it’s also, not without a reason, that it’s so difficult to embed technology in the sense of smell because whatever you do ends up being kind of lame or kind of a joke. Because look behind me, I have up to 5,000 molecules in my collection, plus 10,000 recordings, plus an alphabet of words and terms in relation to smell and language.
It’s all these data you need to get the topic of smell and it’s also very interesting to see the sense of smell kind of self-defends itself. I don’t want to be digitalized. The only thing left, that makes us human is the sense of smell. And it’s also the sense that immediately triggers emotional memory. Quicker, bypassing rationality in the brain immediately activating memory and emotion. So, in the end, it makes so much sense. Fabien, what about you? What do you miss the most in these days?
I think people, the smell of people, the smell of friends because when we live in different parts of the world. I agree with you, what is fascinating about smell is that how incredibly interconnected it is to emotion. And I think, maybe, the new era that we’re going into, is to have a better understanding of how to trigger emotions and to better master our emotions. And I think smell could be an incredible part of that. To make us happy and remind us about people more than images. The new photos of tomorrow maybe will smell.
Linda, you are the moderator here. You have to navigate us out of the system world into the real world.
I am listening to you because I am so happy about this conversation; I am working on this new world outside, instead of focussing on the big brands of the fashion industry. I’m discovering new young designers in countries, in cities, I didn’t know. So probably I’m picking up where you have started Sissel. I’m learning a lot because I wanted to go in February to the fashion shows in Paris and Covid came up and my husband said, I’m not sure that you have to go. So, I unpacked my luggage and I put everything back in my wardrobe. And since then, I’m another person; I thought I can bring my knowledge and my experiences to other people, in different places in the world and make a better world and bring more emotions and bring more passion. And that’s what I am so passionate about. And that’s why you are in the Brain Container, it’s one of my 11 containers.
And you will be now the messengers to a lot of other people in the fashion industry or not. It’s a pity that everything is so segmented. I think what you’ve said, Fabien, that all those engineers, anthropologists, sociologists, researchers have to come together is what I am trying to do. What Sissel said, I’m a doer and me too, I’m a doer. You know that Sissel, I was always hands on and did whatever there was to do and I gave all my passion to that. But now it’s a different word and I want to give my experience also to different people through this project.
That’s great. How is San Francisco coping with the new reality out there?
The lack of normal maybe; but I think in the US at the moment, what is interesting living in California is that you always have a kind of pioneering energy here, like everything is possible. It’s always like “why not” instead of “why” that you have sometimes in another place in the world. It is very refreshing that you can dream, you can think and want to change the world without any scissors and people will take you seriously. And on top of it, may give you sometimes a lot of money to achieve that. Of course, now it’s a weird time with Covid and then, of course, the political climate here. But I think there’s a new world to be invented, that is more tolerant and more balanced against different groups of people. I think you can’t have too much disparity because then the system breaks. And I think we’re seeing that now. I think it’s an incredible time to invent, what you and Linda have been talking about is bringing all those talents together and doing things differently. And to be more, I think, caring of everyone and inclusive and global because internet is fantastic, it’s like free global distribution. I mean, what you’re saying now, everyone can see it tomorrow all over the world. And of course, Linda that’s the whole idea of the containers, isn’t it?
But nobody can smell it! I cannot see these avatars some days in a box, you know, it’s just like obnoxious I’m over it.
I think it would be wonderful to record it. Maybe on the phone we will have one day a sensor, so you can record and send a message, a smell to someone else.
I’ve just sent it, Fabien I’ve just sent it, did you received it? It’s on the way…
I think we can close the conversation here; you made my day because connecting is what was the purpose of this conversation. And I’m sure you’re going to continue the conversation, and probably something new will come out. I thank you both, tremendously for this wonderful conversation. Have a nice day Fabien and a big kiss Sissel. Ciao, have a nice evening.
Fabien Beckers founded IF – The Invention Factory. We are engineers, artists, journalists, philosophers, business analysts, anthropologists, psychologists, AI scientists, and others who are passionate about ideas to invent tomorrow’s world and have a long-lasting human impact. Welcome to IF. IF Art: We work with museums and galleries on projects that aim at making people question the world. IF Consulting: We work with company that want innovate and believe that the novel ideas lies at the crossroads of science and humanities. IF Product: We build and commercialize our own products. IF Innovation: We Invent, fund and launch our own organizations when we have reached product/market-fit
Fabien Beckers was the CEO and co-founder of Arterys, a cloud/deep learning start-up that is disrupting the medical imaging space and building image-based precision medicine tools. Fabien has led the growth of the company from four co-founders to a team of 34 today. Under his leadership, the company has become a pioneer in cloud-based medical imaging software, offering the first FDA-cleared end-to-end cloud infrastructure for medical imaging. They key advantages of the platform being automatic aggregation of real-world data and ability to scale and distribute the processing of increasingly large, complex datasets. Fabien’s vision for the company is to accelerate data-driven medicine by building precision medicine tools based on the consistent quantification of medical image features in combination with molecular, genomics and patient history data. Fabien holds a PhD in Quantum Physics from the University of Cambridge and a masters of business from Stanford University.
Sissel Tolaas was born in Norway 1965 and is based in Berlin. She has a background in chemistry, mathematics, languages and art, from the universities of Oslo, Warsaw, Moscow, St Petersburg and Oxford. Tolaas is the world’s pioneer on the topic of Smell. She has been working actively and has concentrated on the topic of SMELL since 1990, in different sciences, fields of art /design and other disciplines. She established the Berlin SMELL RE_searchLab for smell & communication / language, in Berlin in January 2004, supported by IFF (International Flavors & Fragrances Inc.)
Her research has won recognition through numerous national and international scholarships, honours, and prizes including the 2014 CEW, New York award for chemistry & innovation; 2009 Rouse Foundation Award from Harvard University GSD and the 2010 ArsElectronica Award in Linz, Austria and the 2010-2011-2012-2014 Synthetic Biology / Synthetic Aesthetics Award from Stanford and Edinburgh Universities, which included a residency at Harvard Medical School. Tolaas founded the Institute of Functional Smells in 2010 (i.e. health, education, well-being) Tolaas became a founding member of FUTURE OF EDUCATION in collaboration with the Nanyang Technical University in Singapore and The Future Education Platform, Berlin.
She has worked and is working with numerous companies and institutions, while actively participating in international colloquiums, conferences and networking.
Her projects and research have been presented in institutions such as: TED Global, US; Future Foundation Dubai; Design Indaba, South Africa; What Design Can Do, Holland and Brazil; World Science Festival, New York; World Congress of Synthetic Biology, Stanford University; Documenta13, Kassel, Germany; MOMA New York; MOMA San Francisco; Fondation Cartier, Paris; Serpentine Gallery, London; Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; Tate Gallery, Liverpool; Venice Biennale; Kochi Biennale; Liverpool Biennale; Sao Paulo Biennale; National Art Museum of China Beijing; Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai; The Art Institute of Chicago; Architecture Biennale 2015, Shanghai; Time Museum Guangzhou; NGV, Melbourne.; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; Architecture Biennial, Seoul, Korea: Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow.