Radiolab

Radiolab, with Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, is a radio show and podcast weaving stories and science into sound and music-rich documentaries.


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May 22, 2018

This week, we’re throwing it back to an old favorite: a story about obsession, creativity, and a strange symmetry between a biologist and a composer that revolves around one famously repetitive piece of music.

Anne Adams was a brilliant biologist. But when her son Alex was in a bad car accident, she decided to stay home to help him recover. And then, rather suddenly, she decided to quit science altogether and become a full-time artist. After that, her husband Robert Adams tells us, she just painted and painted and painted. First houses and buildings, then a series of paintings involving strawberries, and then … “Bolero.”

At some point, Anne became obsessed with Maurice Ravel’s famous composition and decided to put an elaborate visual rendition of the song to canvas. She called it “Unraveling Bolero.” But at the time, she had no idea that both she and Ravel would themselves unravel shortly after their experiences with this odd piece of music. Arbie Orenstein tells us what happened to Ravel after he wrote “Bolero,” and neurologist Bruce Miller helps us understand how, for both Anne and Ravel, “Bolero” might have been the first symptom of a deadly disease.

 Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

Read more:

Unravelling Bolero: progressive aphasia, transmodal creativity and the right posterior neocortex

Arbie Orenstein’s Ravel: Man and Musician

May 17, 2018

Seven years ago chatbots – those robotic texting machines – were a mere curiosity. They were noticeably robotic and at their most malicious seemed only capable of scamming men looking for love online. Today, the chatbot landscape is wildly different. From election interference to spreading hate, chatbots have become online weapons.

And so, we decided to reinvestigate the role these robotic bits of code play in our lives and the effects they’re having on us. We begin with a little theater. In our live show “Robert or Robot?” Jad and Robert test 100 people to see if they can spot a bot. We then take a brief detour to revisit the humanity of the Furby, and finish in a virtual house where the line between technology and humanity becomes blurrier than ever before.

This episode was reported and produced by Simon Adler. Our live event was produced by Simon Adler and Suzie Lechtenberg.

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

May 2, 2018

Alecia Faith Pennington was born at home, homeschooled, and never visited a dentist or a hospital. By both chance and design she is completely invisible in the eyes of the state. We follow Faith as she struggles to free herself from one restrictive world only to find that she is trapped in another. In her journey to prove her American citizenship she attempts to answer the age-old question: who am I?

Radiolab then follows the story of David Weinberg, a man who found himself stuck.  He had been kicked out of college, was cleaning toilets by day, delivering pizzas by night and spending his weekends in jail. Then one night he heard a story on the radio and got it in his head that maybe he too could make a great radio story. He’d cast himself as the main character in a great documentary and he’d travel and live and steer his way out of his rut.

So he bought a recorder and began to secretly record every last meaningful and mundane minute of his life and he found his great idea transformed into a troubling obsession. The very thing that gave him hope and purpose was also distancing him from those he loved the most. What if he’d created an archive of his life that had become his life?

Faith’s original Youtube video is posted here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPtpKNyaO0U

For updates on Faith’s journey, visit her Facebook page Help Me Prove It: https://www.facebook.com/Help-Me-Prove-It-882732628415890/

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

April 26, 2018

Astronauts at the International Space Station can make one request to talk to an earthling of their choice. For some reason, Astronaut Mark Vande Hei chose us. A couple weeks ago, we were able to video chat with Mark and peer over his shoulder through the Cupola, an observatory room in the ISS. Traveling at 17,000 miles an hour, we zoomed from the Rockies to the East Coast in minutes. And from where Mark sits, the total darkness of space isn’t very far away. 

Talking to Mark brought us back to 2012, when we spoke to another astronaut, Dave Wolf. When we were putting together our live show In the Dark, Jad and Robert called up Dave Wolf to ask him if he had any stories about darkness. And boy, did he. Dave told us two stories that  became the finale of our show.

Back in late 1997, Dave Wolf was on his first spacewalk, to perform work on the Mir. Dave wasn’t alone — with him was veteran Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Solovyev. 

Out in blackness of space, the contrast between light and dark is almost unimaginably extreme — every 45 minutes, you plunge between absolute darkness on the night-side of Earth, and blazing light as the sun screams into view. Dave and Anatoly were tethered to the spacecraft, traveling 5 miles per second. That’s 16 times faster than we travel on Earth’s surface as it rotates — so as they orbited, they experienced 16 nights and 16 days for every Earth day.

Dave’s description of his first spacewalk was all we could’ve asked for, and more. But what happened next … well, it’s just one of those stories that you always hope an astronaut will tell. Dave and Anatoly were ready to call it a job and head back into the Mir when something went wrong with the airlock. They couldn’t get it to re-pressurize. In other words, they were locked out. After hours of trying to fix the airlock, they were running out of the resources that kept them alive in their space suits and facing a grisly death. So, they unhooked their tethers, and tried one last desperate move.

In the end, they made it through, and Dave went on to perform dozens more spacewalks in the years to come, but he never again experienced anything like those harrowing minutes trying to improvise his way back into the Mir.

After that terrifying tale, Dave told us about another moment he and Anatoly shared, floating high above Earth, staring out into the universe … a moment so beautiful, and peaceful, we decided to use the audience recreate it, as best we could, for the final act of our live show.

This episode was produced by Matt Kielty and Soren Wheeler. 

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

April 20, 2018

Border Trilogy:

While scouring the Sonoran Desert for objects left behind by migrants crossing into the United States, anthropologist Jason De León happened upon something he didn’t expect to get left behind: a human arm, stripped of flesh.

This macabre discovery sent him reeling, needing to know what exactly happened to the body, and how many migrants die that way in the wilderness.  In researching border-crosser deaths in the Arizona desert, he noticed something surprising. Sometime in the late-1990s, the number of migrant deaths shot up dramatically and have stayed high since. Jason traced this increase to a Border Patrol policy still in effect, called “Prevention Through Deterrence.”

Over three episodes, Radiolab will investigate this policy, its surprising origins, and the people whose lives were changed forever because of it.

 

Part 3: What Remains 

The third episode in our Border Trilogy follows anthropologist Jason De León after he makes a grisly discovery in Arivaca, Arizona. In the middle of carrying out his pig experiments with his students, Jason finds the body of a 30-year-old female migrant. With the help of the medical examiner and some local humanitarian groups, Jason discovers her identity. Her name was Maricela. Jason then connects with her family, including her brother-in-law, who survived his own harrowing journey through Central America and the Arizona desert.

With the human cost of Prevention Through Deterrence weighing on our minds, we try to parse what drives migrants like Maricela to cross through such deadly terrain, and what, if anything, could deter them.

This episode was reported by Latif Nasser and Tracie Hunte and was produced by Matt Kielty and Tracie Hunte. 

Special thanks to Sandra Lopez-Monsalve, Chava Gourarie, Lynn M. Morgan, Mike Wells, and Tom Barry.

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

April 6, 2018

Border Trilogy: 

While scouring the Sonoran Desert for objects left behind by migrants crossing into the United States, anthropologist Jason De León happened upon something he didn’t expect to get left behind: a human arm, stripped of flesh.

This macabre discovery sent him reeling, needing to know what exactly happened to the body, and how many migrants die that way in the wilderness.  In researching border-crosser deaths in the Arizona desert, he noticed something surprising. Sometime in the late-1990s, the number of migrant deaths shot up dramatically and have stayed high since. Jason traced this increase to a Border Patrol policy still in effect, called “Prevention Through Deterrence.”

Over three episodes, Radiolab will investigate this policy, its surprising origins, and the people whose lives were changed forever because of it.

 

Part 2: Hold the Line:

After the showdown in court with Bowie High School, Border Patrol brings in a fresh face to head its dysfunctional El Paso Sector: Silvestre Reyes. The first Mexican-American to ever hold the position, Reyes knows something needs to change and has an idea how to do it. One Saturday night at midnight, with the element of surprise on his side, Reyes unveils … Operation Blockade. It wins widespread support for the Border Patrol in El Paso, but sparks major protests across the Rio Grande. Soon after, he gets a phone call that catapults his little experiment onto the national stage, where it works so well that it diverts migrant crossing patterns along the entire U.S.-Mexico Border.

Years later, in the Arizona desert, anthropologist Jason de León realizes that in order to accurately gauge how many migrants die crossing the desert, he must first understand how human bodies decompose in such an extreme environment. He sets up a macabre experiment, and what he finds is more drastic than anything he could have expected.

This episode was reported by Latif Nasser and Tracie Hunte, and was produced by Matt Kielty, Bethel Habte, and Latif Nasser.

Special thanks to Sherrie Kossoudji at the University of Michigan, Cheryl Howard, Andrew Hansen, William Sabol, Donald B. White, Daniel Martinez, Michelle Mittelstadt at the Migration Policy Institute, Former Executive Assistant to the El Paso Mayor Mark Smith, Retired Assistant Border Patrol Sector Chief Clyde Benzenhoefer, Paul Anderson, Eric Robledo, Maggie Southard Gladstone, and Kate Hall.

 Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

 

 

March 23, 2018

Border Trilogy:

While scouring the Sonoran Desert for objects left behind by migrants crossing into the United States, anthropologist Jason De León happened upon something he didn’t expect to get left behind: a human arm, stripped of flesh.

This macabre discovery sent him reeling, needing to know what exactly happened to the body, and how many migrants die that way in the wilderness.  In researching border-crosser deaths in the Arizona desert, he noticed something surprising. Sometime in the late-1990s, the number of migrant deaths shot up dramatically and have stayed high since. Jason traced this increase to a Border Patrol policy still in effect, called “Prevention Through Deterrence.”

Over three episodes, Radiolab will investigate this policy, its surprising origins, and the people whose lives were changed forever because of it.

 

Part 1: Hole in the Fence:

We begin one afternoon in May 1992, when a student named Albert stumbled in late for history class at Bowie High School in El Paso, Texas.  His excuse: Border Patrol. Soon more stories of students getting stopped and harassed by Border Patrol started pouring in. So begins the unlikely story of how a handful of Mexican-American high schoolers in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country stood up to what is today the country’s largest federal law enforcement agency.   They had no way of knowing at the time, but what would follow was a chain of events that would drastically change the US-Mexico border.

This episode was reported by Latif Nasser and Tracie Hunte and was produced by Matt Kielty, Bethel Habte, Tracie Hunte and Latif Nasser. 

Special thanks to Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe, Estela Reyes López, Barbara Hines, Francesca Begos and Nancy Wiese from Hachette Book Group, Professor Michael Olivas at the University of Houston Law Center, and Josiah McC. Heyman, Ph.D, Director, Center for Interamerican and Border Studies and Professor of Anthropology.

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

March 15, 2018

One of our most popular episodes of all time was our Colors episode, where we introduced you to a sea creature that could see a rainbow far beyond what humans can experience.

Peacock mantis shrimps are as extraordinary as they are strange and boast what may well be the most complicated visual system in the world. They each have 16 photoreceptors compared to our measly three. But recently researchers in Australia put the mantis shrimps’ eyes to the test only to discover that sure, they can SEE lots of colors, but that doesn’t mean they can tell them apart.

In fact, when two colors are close together – like yellow and yellow-y green – they can’t seem to tell them apart at all.  

MORE ON COLORS: There was a time — between the flickery black-and-white films of yore and the hi-def color-corrected movies we watch today — when color was in flux. Check out this blog post on how colors made it to the big screen from our director of research, Latif Nasser. 

Our original episode was produced by Tim Howard and Pat Walters. This update was produced by Amanda Aronczyk.

Special thanks to Chris Martin of Creative Aquarium Nation, Phil Weissman, David Gebel and Kate Hinds for lending us their colorful garments. Also thanks to Michael Kerschner, Elisa Nikoloulias and the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus, as well as Chase Culpon and The Greene Space team.

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

February 23, 2018

The shooting in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018, reignited an increasingly familiar debate about guns in this country. Today, we’re re-releasing a More Perfect episode that aired just after the Las Vegas shooting last year that attempts to make sense of our country’s fraught relationship with the Second Amendment.

For nearly 200 years of our nation’s history, the Second Amendment was an all-but-forgotten rule about the importance of militias. But in the 1960s and 70s, a movement emerged — led by Black Panthers and a recently-repositioned NRA — that insisted owning a firearm was the right of each and every American. So began a constitutional debate that only the Supreme Court could solve. That didn’t happen until 2008, when a Washington, D.C. security guard named Dick Heller made a compelling case.

February 20, 2018

We don’t do breaking news. But when Robert Mueller released his indictment a few days ago, alleging that 13 Russian nationals colluded to disrupt the 2016 elections, we had a lot of questions. Who are these Russian individuals sowing discord? And who are these Americans that were manipulated?? Join us as we follow a trail of likes and tweets that takes us from a Troll Factory to a Cheesecake Factory.

This episode was produced by Simon Adler and Annie McEwen with reporting help from Becca Bressler and Charles Maynes. 

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate

February 13, 2018

Do you really need a brain to sense the world around you? To remember? Or even learn? Well, it depends on who you ask. Jad and Robert, they are split on this one. Today, Robert drags Jad along on a parade for the surprising feats of brainless plants. Along with a home-inspection duo, a science writer, and some enterprising scientists at Princeton University, we dig into the work of evolutionary ecologist Monica Gagliano, who turns our brain-centered worldview on it’s head through a series of clever experiments that show plants doing things we never would’ve imagined. Can Robert get Jad to join the march?

This episode was produced by Annie McEwen. 

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate

February 3, 2018

In anticipation of Super Bowl LII (Go Eagles), we’re revisiting an old episode about the surprising history of how the game came to be. It’s the end of the 19th century — the Civil War is over, and the frontier is dead. And young college men are anxious. What great struggle will test their character? Then along comes a new craze: football. A brutally violent game where young men can show a stadium full of fans just what they’re made of. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Penn — the sons of the most powerful men in the country are literally knocking themselves out to win these gladiatorial battles. And then the most American team of all, with the most to prove, gets in the game and owns it. The Carlisle Indian School, formed in 1879 to assimilate the children and grandchildren of the men who fought the final Plains Wars against the fathers and grandfathers of the Ivy Leaguers, starts challenging the best teams in the country. On the football field, Carlisle had a chance for a fair fight with high stakes — a chance to earn respect, a chance to be winners, and a chance to go forward in a changing world that was destroying theirs. 

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate

January 31, 2018

An unassuming string of 16 words tucked into the Constitution grants Congress extensive power to make laws that impact the entire nation. The Commerce Clause has allowed Congress to intervene in all kinds of situations — from penalizing one man for growing too much wheat on his farm, to enforcing the end of racial segregation nationwide. That is, if the federal government can make an economic case for it. This seemingly all-powerful tool has the potential to unite the 50 states into one nation and protect the civil liberties of all. But it also challenges us to consider: when we make everything about money, what does it cost us?

January 23, 2018

How do you pay proper tribute to a legend that many people haven’t heard of?

We began asking ourselves this question last week when the visionary radio producer Joe Frank passed away, after a long struggle with colon cancer.  Joe Frank was the radio producer’s radio producer.  He told stories that were thrillingly weird, deeply mischievous (and sometimes head-spinningly confusing!). He had a big impact on us at Radiolab.  For Jad, his Joe Frank moment happened in 2002, while sitting at a mixing console in an AM radio studio waiting to read the weather.  Joe Frank’s Peabody Award-winning series “Rent-A-Family” came on the air.

Time stood still.

We’ve since learned that many of our peers have had similar Joe Frank moments.

In this episode, we commemorate one of the greats with Brooke Gladstone from On the Media and Ira Glass from This American Life. 

This episode was produced by Jad Abumrad with help from Kelly Prime and Sarah Qari. 

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

January 9, 2018

What are people thinking when they risk their lives for someone else? Are they making complicated calculations of risk or diving in without a second thought? Is heroism an act of sympathy or empathy?  

A few years ago, we spoke with Walter F. Rutkowski about how the Carnegie Hero Fund selects its heroes, an honor the fund bestows upon ordinary people who have done extraordinary acts.

When some of these heroes were asked what they were thinking when they leapt into action, they replied: they didn’t think about it, they just went in.

Neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky says there is a certain kind of empathy that leads to action. But feeling the pain of another person deeply is not necessarily what makes a hero.  

Our original episode was reported and produced by Lynn Levy and Tim Howard. This update was produced by Amanda Aronczyk.

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

December 29, 2017

Take a stroll through where Radiolab is made and meet some of the people who have created your favorite episodes.

Help make another year of curiosity possible. Radiolab.org/support

December 22, 2017

When we dumped out our bucket of questions, there was a lot of spillover. Like, A LOT of spillover. So today, we’re back for round two. This time with some bigger, little questions.  

This episode was reported and produced by Annie McEwen, Bethel Habte, Latif Nasser, Matt Kielty, Simon Adler, and Tracie Hunte.

Special thanks to Stephen Brady and Staff Sergeant Erica Picariello in the US Air Force’s 21st Space Wing.

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

December 20, 2017

Here at the show, we get a lot of questions. Like, A LOT of questions. Tiny questions, big questions, short questions, long questions. Weird questions. Poop questions. We get them all.

And over the years, as more and more of these questions arrived in our inbox, what happened was, guiltily, we put them off to the side, in a bucket of sorts, where they just sat around, unanswered. But now we’re dumping the bucket out.

Today, our producers pick up a question that spilled out of that bucket, and venture out into the great unknown to find answers to some of life’s greatest mysteries: coincidences; miracles; life; death; fate; will; and, of course, poop.

This piece was reported and produced by Rachael Cusick, Tracie Hunte, and Matt Kielty. 

Special thanks to Blake Nguyen, Sarah Murphy, and the New York Public Library. 

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

December 5, 2017

When we started reporting a fantastic, surreal story about one very cold night, more than 70 years ago, in northern Russia, we had no idea we’d end up thinking about cosmology. Or dropping toy horses in test tubes of water. Or talking about bacteria. Or arguing, for a year. Walter Murch (aka, the Godfather of The Godfather), joined by a team of scientists, leads us on what felt like the magical mystery tour of super cool science.

This piece was produced by Molly Webster and Matt Kielty with help from Amanda Aronczyk.  It originally aired in March of 2014.

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

November 30, 2017

This story comes from the second season of Radiolab’s spin-off podcast, More Perfect. To hear more, subscribe here.

On a fall afternoon in 1984, Dethorne Graham ran into a convenience store for a bottle of orange juice. Minutes later he was unconscious, injured, and in police handcuffs. In this episode, we explore a case that sent two Charlotte lawyers on a quest for true objectivity, and changed the face of policing in the US.

 

 

The key voices:

    Dethorne Graham Jr., son of Dethorne Graham, appellant in Graham v. Connor
    Edward G. (Woody) Connette, lawyer who represented Graham in the lower courts
    Gerald Beaver, lawyer who represented Graham at the Supreme Court
    Kelly McEvers, host of Embedded and All Things Considered

 

 The key case:

 

Additional production for this episode by Dylan Keefe and Derek John; additional music by Matt Kielty and Nicolas Carter.

Special thanks to Cynthia Lee, Frank B. Aycock III, Josh Rosenkrantz, Leonard Feldman, and Ben Montgomery.

Leadership support for More Perfect is provided by The Joyce Foundation. Additional funding is provided by The Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation.

Supreme Court archival audio comes from Oyez®, a free law project in collaboration with the Legal Information Institute at Cornell.

November 23, 2017

Back in 1995, Claude Steele published a study that showed that negative stereotypes could have a detrimental effect on students’ academic performance. But the big surprise was that he could make that effect disappear with just a few simple changes in language. We were completely enamoured with this research when we first heard about it, but in the current roil of replications and self-examination in the field of social psychology, we have to wonder whether we can still cling to the hopes or our earlier selves, or if we might have to grow up just a little bit.

This piece was produced by Simon Adler and Amanda Aronczyk and reported by Dan Engber and Amanda Aronczyk.

 Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

November 9, 2017

You never know what might happen when you sign up to donate bone marrow. You might save a life… or you might be magically transported across a cultural chasm and find yourself starring in a modern adaptation of the greatest story ever told.

One day, without thinking much of it, Jennell Jenney swabbed her cheek and signed up to be a donor.  Across the country, Jim Munroe desperately needed a miracle, a one-in-eight-million connection that would save him. It proved to be a match made in marrow, a bit of magic in the world that hadn’t been there before.  But when Jennell and Jim had a heart-to-heart in his suburban Dallas backyard, they realized they had contradictory ideas about where that magic came from. Today, an allegory for how to walk through the world in a way that lets you be deeply different, but totally together.

 

This piece was reported by Latif Nasser.  It was produced by Annie McEwen, with help from Bethel Habte and Alex Overington.

Special thanks to Dr. Matthew J. Matasar, Dr. John Hill, Stephen Spellman at CIBMTR, St. Cloud State University’s Cru Chapter, and Mandy Naglich.

October 27, 2017

There’s nothing quite like the sound of someone thinking out loud, struggling to find words and ideas to match what’s in their head. Today, we are allowed to dip into the unfiltered thoughts of Oliver Sacks, one of our heroes, in the last months of his life. 

Oliver died in 2015, but before he passed he and his partner Bill Hayes, in an effort to preserve some of Oliver’s thoughts on his work and his life, bought a little tape recorder. Over a year and half after Oliver’s death, Bill dug up the recorder and turned it on. Through snippets of conversation with Bill, and in moments Oliver recorded whispering to himself as he wrote, we get a peek inside the head, and the life, of one of the greatest science essayists of all time.

The passages read in this piece all come from Oliver’s recently released, post-humous book, The River of Consciousness

Special thanks to Billy Hayes for letting us use Oliver’s tapes, you can check out his work at http://www.billhayes.com/

 

 

October 12, 2017

Today, while the divisions between different groups in this country feel more and more insurmountable, we zero in on a particular neighborhood to see if one man can draw people together in a potentially history-making election. 

Khader El-Yateem is a Palestinian American running for office in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, one of the most divided, and most conservative neighborhoods in New York City. To win, he’ll need to convince a wildly diverse population that he can speak for all of them, and he’ll need to pull one particular group of people, Arab American Muslims, out of the shadows and into the political process. And to make things just a bit more interesting, El-Yateem is a Lutheran minister.

This story was reported and produced by Simon Adler, with help from Bethel Habte, Annie McEwen, and Sarah Qari.

 Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

October 2, 2017

This story comes from the second season of Radiolab’s spin-off podcast, More Perfect. To hear more, subscribe here.

What happens when the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, seems to get it wrong? Korematsu v. United States is a case that’s been widely denounced and discredited, but it still remains on the books. This is the case that upheld President Franklin Roosevelt’s internment of American citizens during World War II based solely on their Japanese heritage, for the sake of national security. In this episode, we follow Fred Korematsu’s path to the Supreme Court, and we ask the question: if you can’t get justice in the Supreme Court, can you find it someplace else?

 The key voices:

    Fred Korematsu, plaintiff in Korematsu v. United States who resisted evacuation orders during World War II.
    Karen Korematsu, Fred’s daughter, Founder & Executive Director of Fred T. Korematsu Institute
    Ernest Besig, ACLU lawyer who helped Fred Korematsu bring his case
    Lorraine Bannai, Professor at Seattle University School of Law and friend of Fred’s family
    Richard Posner, recently retired Circuit Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit

 The key cases:

 The key links:

Additional music for this episode by The Flamingos, Lulu, Paul Lansky and Austin Vaughn.

 Special thanks to the Densho Archives for use of archival tape of Fred Korematsu and Ernest Besig.

 Leadership support for More Perfect is provided by The Joyce Foundation. Additional funding is provided by The Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation.

Supreme Court archival audio comes from Oyez®, a free law project in collaboration with the Legal Information Institute at Cornell.

September 26, 2017

Most of us would sacrifice one person to save five. It’s a pretty straightforward bit of moral math. But if we have to actually kill that person ourselves, the math gets fuzzy.

That’s the lesson of the classic Trolley Problem, a moral puzzle that fried our brains in an episode we did about 11 years ago. Luckily, the Trolley Problem has always been little more than a thought experiment, mostly confined to conversations at a certain kind of cocktail party. That is until now. New technologies are forcing that moral quandry out of our philosophy departments and onto our streets. So today we revisit the Trolley Problem and wonder how a two-ton hunk of speeding metal will make moral calculations about life and death that we can’t even figure out ourselves.

This story was reported and produced by Amanda Aronczyk and Bethel Habte.

Thanks to Iyad Rahwan, Edmond Awad and Sydney Levine from the Moral Machine group at MIT. Also thanks to Fiery Cushman, Matthew DeBord, Sertac Karaman, Xin Xiang, and Roborace for all of their help. Thanks to the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism students who collected the vox: Chelsea Donohue, Ivan Flores, David Gentile, Maite Hernandez, Claudia Izizarry-Aponte, Comice Johnson, Richard Loria, Nivian Malik, Avery Miles, Alexandra Semenova, Kalah Siegel, Mark Suleymanov, Andee Tagle, Shaydanay Urbani, Isvett Verde and Reece Williams.

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

 

September 22, 2017

One morning, Oliver Sipple went out for a walk. A couple hours later, to his own surprise, he saved the life of the President of the United States. But in the days that followed, Sipple’s split-second act of heroism turned into a rationale for making his personal life into political opportunity. What happens next makes us wonder what a moment, or a movement, or a whole society can demand of one person. And how much is too much? 

Through newly unearthed archival tape, we hear Sipple himself grapple with some of the most vexing topics of his day and ours – privacy, identity, the freedom of the press – not to mention the bonds of family and friendship. 

Reported by Latif Nasser and Tracie Hunte. Produced by Matt Kielty, Annie McEwen, Latif Nasser and Tracie Hunte.

Special thanks to Jerry Pritikin, Michael Yamashita, Stan Smith, Duffy Jennings; Ann Dolan, Megan Filly and Ginale Harris at the Superior Court of San Francisco; Leah Gracik, Karyn Hunt, Jesse Hamlin, The San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive, Mike Amico, Jennifer Vanasco and Joey Plaster.

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

September 12, 2017

This week, we are presenting a story from NPR foreign correspondent Gregory Warner and his new globe-trotting podcast Rough Translation.

Mohammed was having the best six months of his life – working a job he loved, making mixtapes for his sweetheart – when the communist Somali regime perp-walked him out of his own home, and sentenced him to a lifetime of solitary confinement.  With only concrete walls and cockroaches to keep him company, Mohammed felt miserable, alone, despondent.  But then one day, eight months into his sentence, he heard a whisper, a whisper that would open up a portal to – of all places and times – 19th century Russia, and that would teach him how to live and love again. 

August 25, 2017

Today we take a quick look up at a hole in the sky and follow an old story as it travels beyond the reach of the sun.

August 10, 2017

Today, a third story of folks relentlessly searching for the truth.  But this time, the truth seekers are an unlikely bunch… internet trolls. 

August 3, 2017

The stories of a few folks ready to fight the future of fakery. 

July 27, 2017

Today, two new technological tricks that together could invade our past selves and rewrite the rules of credibility. Also, we release something terrible into the world.

July 14, 2017

Today, paranoia sets in: we head to The Ceremony, the top-secret, three-day launch of a new currency, wizards and math included. Halfway through, something strange happens. 

June 15, 2017

What happens when doing what you want to do means giving up who you really are? 

May 25, 2017

We celebrate our 15th birthday by surprising Jad and Robert with a look back at when “Radiolab” was just that: a lab for experimenting with radio.   

May 12, 2017

Today, a hidden power that is either the cornerstone of our democracy or a trapdoor to anarchy.

April 26, 2017

Neil Degrasse Tyson and some new microbiome science help answer the question – when we touch greatness how much of it stays with us? 

April 18, 2017

One woman’s medically miraculous cancer cells, and how Henrietta Lacks changed modern science and, eventually, her family’s understanding of itself.

April 7, 2017

A look up and down the US nuclear chain of command to find out who gets to authorize their use and who can stand in the way of Armageddon. 

March 24, 2017

We again join Ben Montgomery, reporter at the Tampa Bay Times, as he looks at data on every person killed or injured by Florida police over six years. 

March 17, 2017

We join Ben Montgomery, a reporter at the Tampa Bay Times, as he looks at every person killed or injured by Florida police over six years. 

February 24, 2017

In 2012, scientists had a realization: hidden inside one of the world’s smallest organisms, was one of the world’s most powerful tools.

January 27, 2017

Today we travel from the storage rooms of the Smithsonian to the sandy beaches of Guadeloupe, chasing the tale of one trash can tipping raccoon. 

January 27, 2017

Back in 1911, a box with a dead raccoon in it showed up in Washington D.C., at the office of Gerrit S. Miller. After pulling it out and inspecting it, he realized this raccoon was from the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe, and unlike anything he’d ever seen before.  He christened it Procyon minor and in doing so changed the history of Guadeloupe forever.  

Today we travel from the storage rooms of the Smithsonian to the sandy beaches of Guadeloupe, chasing the tale of this trash can tipping critter. All the while trying to uncover what it means to be special. 

Produced and reported by Simon Adler.

Special thanks to Sally Stainier and Allie Pinel for all their help translating in Guadeloupe and New York respectively. 

Thanks to Bernie Beelmeon, Paola Dvihally, Hervé Magnin, Guillaume Aricique, Laurence Baptiste-Salomon, David Xavier-Albert, Florian Kirchner, Matt Chew, and everyone at the ONCFS. 

 

Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.    

December 30, 2016

This episode we look at a high profile sporting event where, thanks to a quirk in the tournament rules, the best shot at winning was … to lose. 

December 16, 2016

This episode we swivel our attention back to you, our listeners, reconnect with some old friends to see how they are doing, and thank everyone for what they’ve shared with us.

December 8, 2016

A new discovery: prodding the brain with light, a group of scientists were able to turn back on a part of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease. 

November 7, 2016

In our first-ever election special, we set off to find a single vote that made a difference.

October 27, 2016

Tuck your napkin under your chin.  We’re about to serve up a tale of love, loss, and lamb chops. 

October 12, 2016

In 2014 the town of Seneca, Nebraska was so deeply divided that they weighed their own self-destruction.  

September 23, 2016

In a recent breakthrough, researchers grew human embryos longer than ever before, witnessing a mysterious part of human development, and crashing into a decades-old ethical dilemma. 

September 12, 2016

Ross McNutt has a superpower — he can zoom in on everyday life, then rewind and fast-forward to solve crimes in a shutter-flash. But should he?

August 29, 2016

In today’s episode, we meet a young woman from Texas, born and raised, who can’t prove that she exists.

August 21, 2016

When people are dying and you can only save some, how do you choose? What happens, what should happen, when humans are forced to play god?

July 30, 2016

Forests feel like a place of great stillness but dig deeper and there’s a hidden world beneath your feet as busy and complicated as a city. 

July 12, 2016

David Weinberg was stuck. Until he started recording every waking minute of his life. 

June 3, 2016

How far should lawyers go to provide the best defense to the worst people?

May 24, 2016

From the producers of Radiolab, More Perfect dives into the rarefied world of the Supreme Court. Season one starts June 2, 2016.

May 9, 2016

Today’s story is a mystery, shockingly hot, and vanishingly tiny.

April 21, 2016

This week, we lace up our skates and tell a story about loving a sport that doesn’t love you back, and being judged in front of the world according to rules you don’t understand. 

April 6, 2016

There’s a black hole in the middle of the history of life: how did we go from tiny bags of chemicals to the vast menagerie of creatures we see around us? 

March 23, 2016

An update on Juniper French, a tiny baby, born at 23 Weeks and 6 days — roughly halfway to full term. And a whole universe of medical and moral questions.

March 11, 2016

How an outsider became the vanguard of a movement that made everything about debate debatable.

February 24, 2016

In the U.S., paparazzi are pretty much synonymous with invasion of privacy. But today we travel to a place where the prying press create something more like a prison break. 

February 12, 2016

This Valentine’s Day, a mysterious tap tap tapping leads us into a world of sex, death, and head-banging.

January 29, 2016

Roosevelt, Kennedy, Eisenhower … they all got a pass. But today we peer back at the moment when poking into the private lives of political figures became standard practice.

January 7, 2016

On this podcast, we present a story from an amazing, staff favorite podcast, Reply All.

December 28, 2015

Radiolab wraps 2015 with a series of special episodes. 

December 22, 2015

Radiolab wraps 2015 with a series of special episodes. 

December 18, 2015

Addiction … and the pills that just might set those that suffer from it free. 

December 1, 2015

Today we discover the rules of war, negotiation, and conflict resolution in a most unlikely place – deep in the heart and soul of that tasty frozen treat we all scream for.

November 22, 2015

In this episode, conception takes on a new form – it’s the sperm and the egg, plus: two wombs, four countries, and money. Lots of money. 

November 2, 2015

In the war on devilish microbes, our weapons are starting to fail us. What if the only way forward is backward?

October 19, 2015

In this hour of Radiolab: reframing our ideas about normalcy. Three stories where choice challenges destiny. 

October 6, 2015

As Candid Camera succeeded, it started to change the way we thought not only of reality television, but also of reality itself.

September 21, 2015

We shine a light into the dark corners of the internet to see the world from the perspective of both cyber crime victims and perpetrators.

September 7, 2015

When shooting and killing an endangered species might be the best way to save it. This episode contains strong language.

August 30, 2015

When Dr. Sacks announced a few months ago that he had terminal cancer and wouldn’t do any more interviews, we asked him if he’d talk with us one last time. This is that conversation.

August 23, 2015

Scientists took about 300 years to lay out the Periodic Table into neat rows and columns. In one hour, we’re going to mess it all up.  

July 30, 2015

The definition of life is in flux, complexity is overrated, and humans are shrinking.

July 16, 2015

How a donation leads Sarah and Ross Gray to places we rarely get a chance to see. 

July 3, 2015

This is the story of a few documents that tumbled out of the secret archives of the biggest empire the world has ever known, offering a glimpse of histories waiting to be rewritten.

June 18, 2015

Ross McNutt has a superpower — he can zoom in on everyday life, then rewind and fast-forward to solve crimes in a shutter-flash. But should he?

June 6, 2015

In 2012, scientists had a realization: hidden inside one of the world’s smallest organisms, was one of the world’s most powerful tools.

May 22, 2015

The incredible, little-known story of the Nazi prisoners of war kept on American soil during World War II.

April 28, 2015

Photojournalist Lynsey Addario captured something that happens all the time but few of us get to see, a soldier fatally wounded on the battlefield. 

April 9, 2015

Producer Briana Breen and the podcast Love + Radio bring us a story about a very eventful year in the life of an accidental voyeur.

March 24, 2015

The story of how punk rock’s arrival in Cuba allowed a small band of outsiders to sentence themselves to death and set themselves free.

March 10, 2015

During World War II, something happened that nobody ever talks about. A tale of mysterious balloons, children caught up in the winds of war. And the terror of silence.

February 24, 2015

This episode we pierce the spandex-ed heart of professional wrestling, and travel 400 years into the past to walk the line between reality and fantasy.

February 9, 2015

How a tiny group of social engineers are making our online relationships kindler and gentler, whether we like it or not. 

January 29, 2015

The most popular sport in the US is savage, creative, brutal & balletic. Love it or loathe it, it’s a touchstone of the American identity.  

January 9, 2015

The lines between boy and girl can be blurry but NPR’s Invisibilia introduces us to someone with a very new idea of how blurry they can be.

December 23, 2014

We’ve gathered a handful of stories that show how every time we think we’ve settled on a price for something, it slips out of our grasp. 

December 12, 2014

A quartet of buttons that may just leave you stuck, rich, ugly, or dead. Confused? Push the button marked “Play”.

November 29, 2014

After a public tragedy, a reporter looks at the space between the stories of the people who experienced it and the official narrative. 

November 13, 2014

The greatest mysteries have a shadowy figure at the center, Patient Zero. We hunt for Patient Zeroes from all over the map.      

October 30, 2014

How a group of paranormal investigators made one man realize what it really means for a house, or a man, to be haunted.

October 20, 2014

How the right words can have the wrong meanings, and the best translations lead us to an understanding that’s way deeper than language. 

October 3, 2014

What’s the soundtrack for the end of the world? We go looking for an answer.

September 18, 2014

Ron and Cornelia Suskind had two healthy young sons, thriving careers and a brand new home when their youngest, Owen, started to disappear. 

September 8, 2014

Horror, fashion, and the end of the world … the undercurrents of thought that link nihilists, philosophers, Jay-Z and True Detective.

August 21, 2014

It’s tough to make small talk with a stranger—especially when that stranger doesn’t speak your language. (And he has a blowhole.)

August 7, 2014

For Robert’s birthday we celebrate with some classic Krulwich and a peek into the spirit and sensibility that, in many ways, drives our show.

August 7, 2014

It’s Robert’s birthday! (Or it was, anyway, a couple days back.) So today we celebrate with some classic Krulwich radio and a backwards peek into the spirit and sensibility that, in many ways, drives our show.

For his birthday surprise we all listened to some old NPR pieces that Robert did in the 70s, 80s and early 90s — a news piece on the dawn of the ATM, a fake opera on interest rates, and the story of a family business splintered into relatives fighting to be first in the phone book. Along the way, we hear some incredible stories from Robert’s life … 

And, just to celebrate the man whose infectious curiosity draws so many people (including us) to his side … we share with you the kind of gonzo, full-throated Krulwich story we usually can’t include in the show … an epic of secret zoos, sewing machines, an alligator farm, a marching band, and a bus full of French tourists that save the day.

July 24, 2014

Today, a lady with a bird in her backyard upends our whole sense of what we may have to give up to keep a wild creature wild.

July 24, 2014

Today, a lady with a bird in her backyard upends our whole sense of what we may have to give up to keep a wild creature wild.

July 17, 2014

Today, the strange story of a small group of islands that raise a big question: is it inevitable that even our most sacred natural landscapes will eventually get swallowed up by humans? And just how far are we willing to go to stop that from happening?

We are dedicating a whole hour to the Galapagos archipelago, the place that inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection. 179 years later, the Galapagos are undergoing rapid changes that continue to pose — and possibly answer — critical questions about the fragility and resilience of life on Earth.

June 26, 2014

Learn a new language faster than ever! Leave doubt in the dust! Could you do all that and more with just a zap to the noggin? Maybe.

June 26, 2014

Learn a new language faster than ever! Leave doubt in the dust! Be a better sniper! Could you do all that and more with just a zap to the noggin? Maybe.

Sally Adee, an editor at New Scientist, was at a conference for DARPA – The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – when she heard about a way to speed up learning with something called trans-cranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). A couple years later, Sally found herself weilding an M4 assualt rifle, picking off enemy combatants with a battery wired to her temple. Of course, it was a simulation, but Sally’s sniper skills made producer Soren Wheeler wonder what we should think of the world of brain stimulation. 

In the last couple years, tDCS has been all over the news. Researchers claim that juicing the brain with just 2 milliamps (think 9-volt battery) can help with everything from learning languages, to quitting smoking, to overcoming depression. We bring Michael Weisend, neuroscientist at Wright State Research Institute, into the studio to tell us how it works (Bonus: you get to hear Jad get his brain zapped). Peter Reiner and Nick Fitz of the University of British Columbia help us think through the consequences of a world where anyone with 20 dollars and access to Radioshack can make their own brain zapper. And finally, Sally tells us about the unexpected after-effects of a day of super-charged sniper training and makes us wonder about world where you can order up a state of mind.

 

Special thanks for the music of Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra

 

June 13, 2014

A plum-sized lump of metal takes us from the French Revolution to an underground bunker in Maryland as we try to weigh the way we weigh the world around us.

June 13, 2014

A plum-sized lump of metal takes us from the French Revolution to an underground bunker in Maryland as we try to weigh the way we weigh the world around us.

May 30, 2014

This hour we investigate the objects around us, their power to move us, and whether it’s better to look back or move on, hold on tight or just let go.

May 15, 2014

Today, the story of one little thing that has radically changed what we know about humanity’s humble beginnings and the kinds of creatures that were out to get us way back when.


Wits University Professor Lee Berger and Dr. Chris Stringer from London’s Natural History Museum explain how a child’s skull, found in an ancient cave, eventually helped answer one of our oldest questions: Where do we come from? Then Lee takes us on a journey to answer a somewhat smaller question: how did that child die? Along the way, we visit Dr. Bernhard Zipfel at Wits University in Johannesburg to actually hold the skull itself.


We wanted to give you a chance to hold the skull, too. So we did a little experiment: we made a 3D scan of it. If you visit our page on Thingiverse, you’ll see the results. Anyone with access to a 3D printer can print their own copy of the skull. (We printed a bunch, with help from our friends at MakerBot—there’s even a purple one with sparkles.)


We also collaborated with the folks at Mmuseumm, a tiny (really tiny, it’s in an elevator shaft) museum in Manhattan. You can visit them to see the 3D printed skull, along with the other wonderful things in their collection: mosquitoes swatted mid-bite, toothpaste tubes from around the world, and much more.


Thanks to JP Brown, Emily Graslie and Robert Martin at the Field Museum in Chicago for scanning the skull. Thanks to Curtis Schmitt and shootdigital for refining the scan. Thanks to Bre Pettis and Jenifer Howard at MakerBot for guiding us through the world of 3D printing.


 

May 15, 2014

Today, the story of one little thing that has radically changed what we know about humanity’s humble beginnings and the kinds of creatures that were out to get us way back when.

Wits University Professor Lee Berger and Dr. Chris Stringer from London’s Natural History Museum explain how a child’s skull, found in an ancient cave, eventually helped answer one of our oldest questions: Where do we come from? Then Lee takes us on a journey to answer a somewhat smaller question: how did that child die? Along the way, we visit Dr. Bernhard Zipfel at Wits University in Johannesburg to actually hold the skull itself.

We wanted to give you a chance to hold the skull, too. So we did a little experiment: we made a 3D scan of it. If you visit our page on Thingiverse, you’ll see the results. Anyone with access to a 3D printer can print their own copy of the skull. (We printed a bunch, with help from our friends at MakerBot—there’s even a purple one with sparkles.)

We also collaborated with the folks at Mmuseumm, a tiny (really tiny, it’s in an elevator shaft) museum in Manhattan. You can visit them to see the 3D printed skull, along with the other wonderful things in their collection: mosquitoes swatted mid-bite, toothpaste tubes from around the world, and much more.

Thanks to JP Brown, Emily Graslie and Robert Martin at the Field Museum in Chicago for scanning the skull. Thanks to Curtis Schmitt and shootdigital for refining the scan. Thanks to Bre Pettis and Jenifer Howard at MakerBot for guiding us through the world of 3D printing.

 

May 2, 2014

It’s hard to think of anything more rational, more logical and impersonal than a number. But what if we’re all, universally, also deeply attuned to how numbers … feel? Why 2 is warm, 7 is strong and 11 is downright mystical.

 

 

May 2, 2014

It’s hard to think of anything more rational, more logical and impersonal than a number. But what if we’re all, universally, also deeply attuned to how numbers … feel? Why 2 is warm, 7 is strong and 11 is downright mystical.

 

 

April 18, 2014

How one sentence — just 60 words written in the hours after the September 11 attacks — became the legal foundation for the “war on terror.”

April 1, 2014

From boom bap to EDM, we look at the line between hip-hop and not, and meet a defender of the genre that makes you question… who’s in and who’s out.

April 1, 2014

From boom bap to EDM, we look at the line between hip-hop and not, and meet a defender of the genre that makes you question… who’s in and who’s out.

March 25, 2014

They buzz. They bite. And they have killed more people than cancer, war, or heart disease. Here’s the question: If you could wipe mosquitoes off the face of the planet, would you?

March 25, 2014

They buzz. They bite. And they have killed more people than cancer, war, or heart disease. Here’s the question: If you could wipe mosquitoes off the face of the planet, would you?

March 13, 2014

What do frozen horses and a scorching universe have in common? That’s what we wanted to know.

February 25, 2014

From the stage to the cage, a series of showdowns that leave us wondering about the price of being right … or coming from the left.

February 12, 2014

How a sunken nuclear submarine, a crazy billionaire, and a mechanical claw gave birth to a phrase that has hounded journalists and lawyers for 40 years and embodies the tension between the public’s desire for transparency and the government’s need to keep secrets.  


 

February 12, 2014

How a sunken nuclear submarine, a crazy billionaire, and a mechanical claw gave birth to a phrase that has hounded journalists and lawyers for 40 years and embodies the tension between the public’s desire for transparency and the government’s need to keep secrets.  

 

January 28, 2014

You order some stuff on the Internet and it shows up three hours later. How could all the things that need to happen to make that happen happen so fast?

 

January 28, 2014

You order some stuff on the Internet and it shows up three hours later. How could all the things that need to happen to make that happen happen so fast?

 

January 17, 2014

This hour, we examine three very different kinds of black boxes—those peculiar spaces where it’s clear what’s going in, we know what’s coming out, but what happens in-between is a mystery.

December 30, 2013

At the start of this new year we crack open some fossils, peer back into ancient seas, and look up at lunar skies to find that a year is not quite as fixed as we thought it was.

 

December 30, 2013

At the start of this new year we crack open some fossils, peer back into ancient seas, and look up at lunar skies to find that a year is not quite as fixed as we thought it was.

 

December 9, 2013

In this new live stage performance, Radiolab turns its gaze to the topic of endings, both blazingly fast and agonizingly slow.

December 9, 2013

A preview of Radiolab’s live show Apocalyptical: dinosaurs, death, destruction… plus cinematic live scoring and comedic mayhem from Reggie Watts and Kurt Braunohler. Feast your eyes on more video — including a cut of the full show! — at radiolab.org/live.

November 19, 2013

Scientists’ obsession with one particular man – and with the tiny scraps of evidence left in the wake of his death – gives us a surprisingly intimate peek into the life of someone who should’ve been lost to the ages.

November 19, 2013

Scientists’ obsession with one particular man – and with the tiny scraps of evidence left in the wake of his death – gives us a surprisingly intimate peek into the life of someone who should’ve been lost to the ages.

November 1, 2013

Legions of athletes, sports gurus, and scientists have tried to figure out why Kenyans dominate long-distance running. In this short, we stumble across a surprising, and sort of terrifying, explanation.

November 1, 2013

Legions of athletes, sports gurus, and scientists have tried to figure out why Kenyans dominate long-distance running. In this short, we stumble across a surprising, and sort of terrifying, explanation.

October 22, 2013

When we first released Famous Tumors, Rebecca Skloot’s book about the life and legacy of Henrietta Lacks (and her famous cells) had just hit the shelves. Since then, some interesting things have happened to both Henrietta’s cells and her family. So, 4 years later, we have a newly updated show!

October 10, 2013

For many of us, quicksand was once a real fear — it held a vise-grip on our imaginations, from childish sandbox games to grown-up anxieties about venturing into unknown lands. But these days, quicksand can’t even scare an 8-year-old. In this short, we try to find out why. 

October 10, 2013

For many of us, quicksand was once a real fear — it held a vise-grip on our imaginations, from childish sandbox games to grown-up anxieties about venturing into unknown lands. But these days, quicksand can’t even scare an 8-year-old. In this short, we try to find out why. 

September 24, 2013

You may not give a second thought (or backward glance) to what the toilet whisks away after you do your business. But we got wondering — where would we wind up if we thought of flushing as the start, and not the end, of a journey? In this short, we head out to trace the trail of sludge…from Manhattan, to wherever poop leads us.

September 24, 2013

You may not give a second thought (or backward glance) to what the toilet whisks away after you do your business. But we got wondering — where would we wind up if we thought of flushing as the start, and not the end, of a journey? In this short, we head out to trace the trail of sludge…from Manhattan, to wherever poop leads us.

September 12, 2013

We’ve all felt it, that irresistible urge to point the finger. But why do we need blame and how is new technology complicating accountability? 

August 29, 2013

In this short, Jad puts on his music hat and shares his love of Dawn of Midi, a band that he recently started using on the show.

August 29, 2013

In this short, Jad puts on his music hat and shares his love of Dawn of Midi, a band that he recently started using on the show.

August 13, 2013

What do you do in the face of a monstrous disease with a 100% fatality rate? In this short, a Milwaukee doctor tries to knock death incarnate off its throne.

August 13, 2013

What do you do in the face of a monstrous disease with a 100% fatality rate? In this short, a Milwaukee doctor tries to knock death incarnate off its throne.

July 9, 2013

One of our favorite human beings turns 80 this week. To celebrate, Robert asks Oliver Sacks to look back on his career, and explain how thousands of worms and a motorbike accident led to a brilliant writing career.

July 9, 2013

One of our favorite human beings turns 80 this week. To celebrate, Robert asks Oliver Sacks to look back on his career, and explain how thousands of worms and a motorbike accident led to a brilliant writing career.

July 2, 2013

The complex racial history of two towns in Ohio leads members of the same family to disagree strongly about whether they’re black or white.

July 2, 2013

Producer Lu Olkowski brings us the story of a tightly-knit family caught on opposite sides of a very big divide. If you ask Ally Manning’s mom and sister, they’ll tell you there’s no question: they’re black. But as a teenager, Ally decided that what was true for them didn’t make sense for her.

June 27, 2013

This fall, we’re hitting the road with our brand-new live show. We’re stopping in 20 cities across the US (plus 1 stop in Canada), and we have some exciting news about the special musical guests who are joining us for the tour. Listen to a quick sneak peek, and grab your tix now.

June 27, 2013

This fall, we’re hitting the road with our brand-new live show. We’re stopping in 20 cities across the US (plus 1 stop in Canada), and we have some exciting news about the special musical guests who are joining us for the tour. Listen to a quick sneak peek, and grab your tix now.

June 13, 2013

The desire to trace your way back to the very beginning, to understand everything — whether it’s the mysteries of love or the mechanics of the universe — is deeply human. It might also be deeply flawed.

June 13, 2013

The desire to trace your way back to the very beginning, to understand everything — whether it’s the mysteries of love or the mechanics of the universe — is deeply human. It might also be deeply flawed.

May 30, 2013

This is the story of a three-year-old girl and the highest court in the land. The Supreme Court case Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl is a legal battle that has entangled a biological father, a heart-broken couple, and the tragic history of Native American children taken from their families.

May 30, 2013

This is the story of a three-year-old girl and the highest court in the land. The Supreme Court case Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl is a legal battle that has entangled a biological father, a heart-broken couple, and the tragic history of Native American children taken from their families.

May 20, 2013

If you’ve ever wondered how the podcast comes together, or what it’s like to work at Radiolab, here’s a peek into our process.

May 14, 2013

Every 17 years, a deafening sex orchestra hits the East Coast — billions and billions of cicadas crawl out of the ground, sing their hearts out, then mate and die. In this short, Jad and Robert talk to a man who gets inside that noise to dissect its meaning and musical components.

May 14, 2013

Every 17 years, a deafening sex orchestra hits the East Coast — billions and billions of cicadas crawl out of the ground, sing their hearts out, then mate and die. In this short, Jad and Robert talk to a man who gets inside that noise to dissect its meaning and musical components.

April 16, 2013

What if the moon were just a jump away? In this short, a beautiful answer to that question from Italo Calvino, read live by Liev Schreiber. 

April 16, 2013

What if the moon were just a jump away? In this short, a beautiful answer to that question from Italo Calvino, read live by Liev Schreiber. 

April 2, 2013

Improv comedy puts uncertainty on center stage — performers usually start by asking the audience for a prompt, then they make up the details as they go. But two actors in Chicago are taking this idea to its absolute limit, and finding ways to navigate the unknown.

April 2, 2013

Improv comedy puts uncertainty on center stage — performers usually start by asking the audience for a prompt, then they make up the details as they go. But two actors in Chicago are taking this idea to its absolute limit, and finding ways to navigate the unknown.

March 26, 2013

Stories about walking the tightrope between doubt and certainty.

 

March 19, 2013

This spring, parts of the East Coast will turn squishy and crunchy — the return of the 17-year cicadas means surfaces in certain locations (in patches from VA to CT) will once again be coated in bugs buzzing at 7 kilohertz. In their honor, we’re rebroadcasting one of our favorite episodes: Emergence.

March 5, 2013

In the 1970s, choking became national news: thousands were choking to death, leading to more accidental deaths than guns. Nobody knew what to do. Until a man named Henry Heimlich came along with a big idea.

March 5, 2013

In the 1970s, choking became national news: thousands were choking to death, leading to more accidental deaths than guns. Nobody knew what to do. Until a man named Henry Heimlich came along with a big idea. Since then, thousands and thousands — maybe even millions — have been rescued by the Heimlich maneuver. Yet the story of the man who invented it may not have such a happy ending.

February 19, 2013

There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit.

February 19, 2013

There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit.

February 5, 2013

The inhumanly fast world of high-speed trading, an excruciatingly slow experiment, and a physicist plays Zeus.

January 15, 2013

We turn to doctors to save our lives — to heal us, repair us, and keep us healthy. But when it comes to the critical question of what to do when death is at hand, there seems to be a gap between what we want doctors to do for us, and what doctors want done for themselves.

January 15, 2013

We turn to doctors to save our lives — to heal us, repair us, and keep us healthy. But when it comes to the critical question of what to do when death is at hand, there seems to be a gap between what we want doctors to do for us, and what doctors want done for themselves.

December 31, 2012

Is reality an ethereal, mathematical poem… or is it made up of solid, physical stuff? In this short, we kick rocks, slap tables, and argue about the nature of the universe with Jim Holt.

December 31, 2012

Is reality an ethereal, mathematical poem… or is it made up of solid, physical stuff? In this short, we kick rocks, slap tables, and argue about the nature of the universe with Jim Holt.

December 17, 2012

Stories of striving, grasping, tripping, and falling for happiness, perfection, and Bliss.

December 3, 2012

In this short, costumed scientists create a carefully choreographed childhood for a flock of whooping cranes to save them from extinction. It’s the ultimate feel-good story, but it also raises some troubling questions about what it takes to get a species back to being wild.

December 3, 2012

In this short, costumed scientists create a carefully choreographed childhood for a flock of whooping cranes to save them from extinction. It’s the ultimate feel-good story, but it also raises some troubling questions about what it takes to get a species back to being wild.

November 6, 2012

Mel Blanc was known as “the man of 1,000 voices,” but the actual number may have been closer to 1,500. Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Tweety, Barney Rubble — all Mel. His characters made him one of the most beloved men in America. And in 1961, when a car crash left him in a coma, these characters may have saved him.

October 22, 2012

John and Zoltan are both blind, but they deal with the world in completely different ways — one paints vivid pictures in his mind, while the other refuses to picture anything at all. In this short, they argue about the truth of a world they can’t see.

October 8, 2012

200 miles above Earth’s surface, astronaut Dave Wolf — rocketing through the blackness of Earth’s shadow at 5 miles a second — floated out of the Mir Space Station on his very first spacewalk. In this short, he describes the extremes of light and dark in space, relives a heart-pounding close call, and shares one of the most tranquil moments of his life.

September 24, 2012

Getting a firm hold on the truth is never as simple as nailing down the facts of a situation. This hour, we go after a series of seemingly simple facts — facts that offer surprising insight, facts that inspire deeply different stories, and facts that, in the end, might not matter at all.

September 10, 2012

“Hey kids,” said physicist Tadashi Tokieda, “Wanna see a magic trick?” He pulled out a Slinky and did something that amazed the kids, & their dad Steve Strogatz. Steve, along with Neil deGrasse Tyson, explains what the gravity-defying Slinky trick reveals about the nature of all things great and small (including us).

August 28, 2012

Pain is a fundamental part of life, and often a very lonely part. Doctors want to understand their patients’ pain, and we all want to understand the suffering of our friends, relatives, or spouses. But pinning down another person’s hurt is a slippery business. 

August 20, 2012

Celebrate the 35th anniversary of the launch of Voyager 2 (it rocketed off Earth on 8/20/77 carrying a copy of the Golden Record), and tip your hat to the Mars rover Curiosity as it kicks off its third week on the red planet, with a rebroadcast of one our favorite episodes: Space.

July 30, 2012

From a suburban sidewalk in southern California, Jad and Robert witness the carnage of a gruesome turf war. Though the tiny warriors doing battle clock in at just a fraction of an inch, they have evolved a surprising, successful, and rather unsettling strategy of ironclad loyalty, absolute intolerance, and brutal violence.

July 16, 2012

In early August of 1945, Tsutomu Yamaguchi had a run of the worst luck imaginable. A double blast of radiation left his future, and the future of his descendants, in doubt. In this short: an utterly amazing survival story that spans … well, 4 billion years when you get down to it.

July 2, 2012

Turning ideas into radio is one of the most exciting, frustrating, rewarding, and insanely fun things there is. Which got us thinking–why not ask you to join in on the fun? So we teamed up with Indaba for our first-ever remix competition. And now we get to play the winners.

 

June 18, 2012

In this podcast, a story about obsession, creativity, and a strange symmetry between a biologist and a composer that revolves around one famously repetitive piece of music.

June 4, 2012

While working on The Bad Show, producer Pat Walters ran across some recordings that spooked him–partly because they seemed like they had to be a big joke … and partly because, at the same time, they sounded so deadly serious. In this short, Jad & Robert try to decide how to feel.

May 21, 2012

Radiolab rips the rainbow a new one.

May 14, 2012

Just before the curtain went up on our live show in Los Angeles, Jad and Robert carved out a little stage time for a sneak peek at next week’s Colors episode.

April 30, 2012

Mother’s day is nigh. Sort of. Anyway, without knowing it, you might have already given your mom a pretty lasting gift. But whether it helps or hurts her, or both, is still an open question. In this Radiolab short, Robert updates us on the science of fetal cells — one of the first topics he covered as an NPR science correspondent.

April 16, 2012

In this short, we go looking for the devil, and find ourselves tangled in a web of details surrounding one of the most haunting figures in music–a legendary guitarist whose shadowy life spawned a legend so powerful, it’s still being repeated…even by fans who don’t believe a word of it.

April 2, 2012

A look at the messy mystery in our middles, and what the rumblings deep in our bellies can tell us about ourselves.

March 19, 2012

Alan Turing’s mental leaps about machines and computers were some of the most innovative ideas of the 20th century. But the world wasn’t kind to him. In this short, Robert wonders h…

March 5, 2012

Every day, every moment, an epic battle is raging across the globe. It’s happening in the ocean. And the evidence is both highly visible and totally hidden, depending on your perspective. In this short, the tale of an arms race involving trillions of sea creatures–and why their struggle is vital to our survival.

February 20, 2012

Stories about traps and getaways … about getting stuck, and breaking free.

February 6, 2012

Sometimes being a good scientist requires putting aside your emotions. But what happens when objectivity isn’t enough to make sense of a seemingly senseless act of violence? In this short, Jad and Robert talk to an entomologist about the risks, and the rewards, of trying to see the world through someone else’s eyes. 

January 23, 2012

In today’s short, a man confronts a bully, and frees himself from a recurring nightmare that’s terrorized him for more than 20 years.

January 9, 2012

We wrestle with the dark side of human nature, and ask whether it’s something we can ever really understand, or fully escape.

December 26, 2011

In this podcast short, a strange twist of legal taxonomy causes a dispute over whether X-MEN action figures are toys or dolls and sparks a court case about what it means to be human.

December 12, 2011

Roman Mars loves to spotlight the seams and joints that make up the world around us. He’s the host of an irresistible podcast called 99% Invisible–a series of tiny radio stories that provoke enormous questions. Roman joins Jad and Robert to play a few favorites, and to chat about the hidden language of design that shapes our lives–from sound effects to stuff that’s more … concrete.

November 29, 2011

Near the end of the 19th century, a mysterious young woman with a beguiling smile turned up in Paris. She became a huge sensation. She also happened to be dead. You’d probably recognize her face yourself. You might have even touched it.

November 15, 2011

We hunt for Patient Zeroes from all over the map.

October 31, 2011

Carl Zimmer is one of our go-to guys when we need help untangling a complicated scientific idea. But in this short, he unravels something much more personal.

October 18, 2011

Kohn Ashmore’s voice is arresting. It stopped his friend Andy Mills in his tracks the first time they met. But in this short about the power of friendship and familiarity, Andy explains that Kohn’s voice isn’t the most striking thing about him at all.

October 4, 2011

The surprising ways that loops steer… and sometimes derail… our lives.

September 20, 2011

For most of human history, flight was an impossible dream. In this short, the dizzying rise and fall of a pilot whose aeronautic feats changed aviation forever and turned chancy stunts into acrobatic mastery.

September 6, 2011

Writer Ian Frazier made a startling discovery several years ago in eastern Siberia: no one he met there had ever heard of tic tac toe. In this short, Jad and Robert wonder how a game that seems carved into childhood DNA could be completely unknown in some parts of the world.

August 23, 2011

Winners, losers, underdogs — what can games tell us about who we really are?

August 9, 2011

The basal ganglia is a core part of the brain, deep inside your skull, that helps control movement. Unless something upsets the chain of command. In this short, Jad and Robert meet a young researcher who was studying what happens when the basal ganglia gets short-circuited in mice…until one fateful day, when things got really, really weird.

July 26, 2011

In this short, a neurologist issues a dare to a ragtime piano player and a famous conductor. When the two men face off in an fMRI machine, the challenge is so unimaginably difficult that one man instantly gives up. But the other achieves a musical feat that ought to be impossible.

July 11, 2011

We’re celebrating summer with a classic episode of Radiolab–full of mystery, intrigue…and a goat standing on a cow. We haven’t actually tried listening to it around a campfire, but we’re betting it would totally work. See you in two weeks with a new short!

June 27, 2011

In this short, Jad presents the electrifying sounds of three mind-bending musical acts: Brooklyn duo Buke & Gass, drummer Glenn Kotche of Wilco, and the one-and-only Reggie Watts. Their performances were recorded live at our Curious Sounds concert earlier this month in NYC.

June 14, 2011

In 1562, King Philip II needed a miracle. So he commissioned one from a highly-skilled clockmaker. In this short, a king’s deal with God leads to an intricate mechanical creation, and Jad heads to the Smithsonian to investigate. 

May 17, 2011

In this short, a family dog disappears into the woods…and the mystery of what happened to him raises a big question about what it means to be wild.

May 3, 2011

In this short, Jonathan Schooler tells us about a discovery that launched his career and led to a puzzle that has haunted him ever since.

April 18, 2011

Is the world full of deep symmetries and ordered pairs? Or do we live in a lopsided universe? This striking video by Everynone plays with our yearning for balance, and reveals how beautiful imperfect matches can be. The video was inspired by our episode Desperately Seeking Symmetry.

April 5, 2011

Diane Van Deren is one of the best ultra-runners in the world, and it all started with a seizure. In this short, Diane tells us how her disability gave rise to an extraordinary ability.

March 22, 2011

Richard Holmes went to Cambridge University intending to study the lives of poets. Until a dueling mathematician, and a dinner conversation composed entirely of gestures, changed his mind.

March 8, 2011

What do you do when your own worst enemy is…you?

February 22, 2011

In today’s short, we get to know a man who struggles, and mostly fails, to contain his violent outbursts…until he meets a bird who can keep him in check.

February 8, 2011

This week on the podcast, football! No, it’s not a Super Bowl recap. Jad and Robert present a piece from across the pond–a piece about soccer they fell in love with when they heard it at the Third Coast festival in Chicago.

December 28, 2010

In this new short, a tree full of blood-sucking bats lends a startling twist to our understanding of altruism and natural selection.

December 14, 2010

If natural selection boils down to survival of the fittest, how do you explain why one creature might stick its neck out for another?

November 30, 2010

A mysterious case of the topsy turvies and a return to the question of what felines feel when they fall.

November 2, 2010

One tidy mathematical formula may hold the key to how cities work. We take to the streets to test the numbers, & ask what really makes cities tick.

October 19, 2010

In today’s podcast, we get a tantalizing taste of words in the wild, from the jungles to the prairie.

October 4, 2010

In this podcast, Jad and Robert throw some physics at a bible story. We find out just how many trumpeters you’d actually need to blow down the walls of Jericho.

September 20, 2010

We plunge into a black hole, take a trip over Niagara Falls, and upend some myths about falling cats.

September 7, 2010

In this podcast, Jad talks to Charles Fernyhough about the connection between thought and the voice in your head. How did it get there? And what’s happening when people hear someone else’s voice in their head?

August 24, 2010

The strange, subjective nature of time — from a sped-up spin through childhood, to a really, really slowed-down Beethoven symphony. 

August 9, 2010

Words have the power to shape the way we think and feel. In this stunning video (made to accompany our Words episode), filmmakers Will Hoffman and Daniel Mercadante bandy visual wordp…