Robert Krulwich

Robert Krulwich is a correspondent for NPR's Science Desk, reporting on the intersections of science and technology with culture, politics and religion. His specialty is explaining complex news — economics, technology, science — in a style that is clear, compelling and entertaining. "I like talking about 'invisible ideas' and trying to find a way to explain what you've learned so people can grasp it," he said.

Additionally, Krulwich co-hosts WNYC's NPR-distributed scientific documentary series Radio Lab with host/producer Jad Abumrad and serves as substitute host on NPR news magazines and talk programs including Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Talk of the Nation.

Krulwich first joined NPR in 1978 and served as economics reporter until 1985 when he joined CBS News. Since 1994, Krulwich has been an ABC News correspondent, appearing regularly on Nightline, World News Tonight and Good Morning America. He contributed to NPR occasionally until his recent return to NPR.

With Ted Koppel, he co-hosted an eight-part primetime series "Brave New World," which probed the "eight biggest questions facing humankind." With Peter Jennings, he produced an animated history of Bosnia for a children's special. With Barbara Walters, he explored possible cures for cancer.

Krulwich has been called "the most inventive network reporter in television" by TV Guide, "the man who makes the dismal science swing" by the Washington Journalism Review, and "the man who simplifies without being simple" by New York magazine.

He is also a regular correspondent on the PBS investigative series Frontline where he won an Alfred I duPont-Columbia University Award for his coverage of campaign finance in the 1992 presidential campaign, a national Emmy Award for his investigation of privacy on the Internet, "High Stakes in Cyberspace"; and a George Polk Award for an hour on the savings and loan scandal. His ABC special on Barbie, a cultural history of the world-famous doll, also won a national Emmy.

Krulwich has also anchored a cultural affairs series on PBS (and a simultaneous series on the BBC) called The Edge. He has also hosted Live From Lincoln Center and appeared on Jay Leno's premiere Tonight Show broadcast.

Once a year Krulwich hosts a semi-fictional year-in-review called "Backfire," with friends Jane Curtin, Buck Henry and Tony Hendra. In 1995, the group performed at the White House at the invitation of President and Mrs. Clinton.

He has received numerous awards for his reporting, including the Extraordinary Communicator Award from the National Cancer Institute in 2000, four consecutive Gainsbrugh Awards from the Economics Broadcasting Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science Excellence in Television Award in 2001 for a NOVA special on the human genome. TV Guide named Krulwich to its All Star reporting team; and Esquire placed him in its Esquire Registry in 1989. In 1974, Krulwich covered the Watergate hearings for Pacifica Radio and in 1976, he was Washington bureau chief for Rolling Stone magazine.

Krulwich received a bachelor's degree in U.S. history from Oberlin College in 1969, and a Juris Doctorate from Columbia Law School in 1974. He lives in New York City with his wife, Tamar Lewin, a national reporter for the New York Times. They have two children, Jesse and Nora Ann.

Pages

10:39am

Fri October 19, 2012
Krulwich Wonders...

Charles Darwin And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Originally published on Fri October 19, 2012 10:45 am

Aaron Birk

I guess everybody, even the smartest people who ever lived, have days when they feel dumb — really, really dumb. Oct. 1, 1861, was that kind of day for Charles Darwin.

In a letter to his friend Charles Lyell, Darwin says, "I am very poorly today," and then — and I want you to see this exactly as he wrote it, so you know this isn't a fake; it comes from the library of the American Philosophical Society, courtesy of their librarian Charles Greifenstein. Can you read it?

It says:

Whoah! You know the feeling, right?

Read more

11:02am

Wed October 17, 2012
Krulwich Wonders...

Tough Old Lizard To Face Grave Romantic Troubles, Say Scientists

Originally published on Wed October 17, 2012 11:44 am

Courtesy of Piotr Naskrecki

Oh, dear.

First off, this lizard? It's not really a lizard. It's an almost vanished species, a reptile like no other.

Read more

11:45am

Fri October 12, 2012
Krulwich Wonders...

Sun Goes Down. Up Comes A Mystery

Originally published on Fri October 12, 2012 11:53 am

minutephysics YouTube

Here's a question you probably didn't know was a question: Why is the sky dark at night?

My daughter asked me this about 10 years ago. We were looking up at the night sky, and she said, "There's lots of stars up there." And I said, "Yes."

Read more

1:08pm

Wed October 10, 2012
Krulwich Wonders...

Obama's Secret Weapon In The South: Small, Dead, But Still Kickin'

Originally published on Wed October 10, 2012 3:10 pm

Ron Blakey Northern Arizona University

Look at this map, and notice that deep, deep in the Republican South, there's a thin blue band stretching from the Carolinas through Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. These are the counties that went for Obama in the last election. A blue crescent in a sea of red.

Read more

11:03am

Wed October 3, 2012
Krulwich Wonders...

Are Those Spidery Black Things On Mars Dangerous? (Yup.)

Originally published on Thu October 4, 2012 4:43 pm

Michael Benson NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/Kinetikon Pictures

You are 200 miles directly above the Martian surface — looking down. This image was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Jan. 27, 2010. (The color was added later.) What do we see? Well, sand, mostly. As you scroll down, there's a ridge crossing through the image, then a plain, then dunes, but keep looking. You will notice, when you get to the dunes, there are little black flecks dotting the ridges, mostly on the sunny side, like sunbathing spiders sitting in rows. Can you see them?

Read more

12:56pm

Mon October 1, 2012
Krulwich Wonders...

Do You Know Where Your Children Are? Is That Always A Good Thing?

Originally published on Mon October 1, 2012 1:32 pm

iStockphoto

There was a time — and it wasn't that long ago — when kids would leave home on a summer morning and roam free. "I knew kids who were pushed out the door at eight in the morning," writes Bill Bryson of his childhood in the 1950s, "and not allowed back until five unless they were on fire or actively bleeding." That's what kids did. They went out. Parents let them, and everybody did it. "If you stood on any corner with a bike — any corner anywhere — more than a hundred children, many of whom you had never seen before, would appear and ask you where you were going," Bryson writes.

Read more

10:49am

Fri September 21, 2012
Krulwich Wonders...

Getting Slower And Slower: How Slow Can You Go?

Originally published on Fri September 21, 2012 11:36 am

Vincent Liota

Before we go slow, let's go fast, so fast you can't go any faster. That would be light in a vacuum, traveling at 670 million miles per hour ...

Light, of course, can slow down. When light passes through water, it loses speed. A diamond is an even better speed bump. It can slow a beam of light by 40 percent.

But moving on, you and I are going pretty fast right now, though we don't notice. The planet we're on is zipping around the sun at 66,000-plus miles per hour ...

Read more

9:44am

Wed September 19, 2012
Krulwich Wonders...

U.S. Explodes Atomic Bombs Near Beers To See If They Are Safe To Drink

Originally published on Wed September 19, 2012 4:34 pm

National Technical Information Service via Alex Wellerstein

So you're minding your own business when all of a sudden, a nuclear bomb goes off, there's a shock wave, fires all around, general destruction and you, having somehow survived, need a drink. What can you do? There is no running water, not where you are. But there is a convenience store. It's been crushed by the shock wave, but there are still bottles of beer, Coke and diet soda intact on the floor.

So you wonder: Can I grab one of those beers and gulp it down? Or is it too radioactive? And what about taste? If I drink it, will it taste OK?

Read more

11:58am

Fri September 7, 2012
Krulwich Wonders...

Volcano Shoots Geyser Of Water Up Into Space

Originally published on Tue October 9, 2012 11:53 am

Michael Benson

What we have here is a moon — a small one (slightly wider than the state of Arizona) — circling Saturn.

If you look closely, you will see a small splay of light at its top, looking like a circular fountain.

That's because it is a fountain — of sorts. A bunch of volcano-like jets are sending fantastically high geysers of water vapor up into the sky, so high that you can see them in this remarkable print by Michael Benson, back lit by light bouncing off of Saturn.

Read more

8:39am

Wed September 5, 2012
Krulwich Wonders...

What's With Frosty? Why Isn't He Showing Up On Time?

Originally published on Wed September 5, 2012 8:57 am

iStockphoto.com

Check out this graph of America's "Growing Season" — it measures the number of continuous days and nights when it never gets below 32 degrees. You could call this our "frost-free" time of year. In many places, the frost-free season begins in the spring and ends somewhere in October.

As you can see, over the 20th century, it's been staying frost-free longer...and longer...and longer...

Read more

12:10pm

Tue July 24, 2012
Krulwich Wonders...

Which Is Bigger: A Human Brain Or The Universe?

Originally published on Tue July 24, 2012 1:46 pm

Robert Krulwich NPR

This is one of those fun-to-think-about questions. A brain isn't much to look at, after all. It's about the size of your two fists put together, three pounds to hold, but oh my, what it can do.

With our brains, we can think backwards, imagine forwards, conjure, create things that don't exist, leap vast distances. For example, suppose I say to you, close your eyes and imagine this:

Read more

10:45am

Tue July 17, 2012
Krulwich Wonders...

Five Men Agree To Stand Directly Under An Exploding Nuclear Bomb

Originally published on Wed July 18, 2012 2:23 pm

Atom Central/YouTube

12:13am

Sun July 8, 2012
Krulwich Wonders...

Weekend Special: Guess What? Sweat Is Not Smelly! (So Why Do I Smell?)

Originally published on Mon July 9, 2012 1:28 pm

The Chemical Heritage Foundation via YouTube

It's hot today. Really, really, hot; over a 100 degrees Fahrenheit hot, and so I'm sweating.

Sweating is what we people do to cool off, which is good. But sweating is also what makes me ... what's the word? Odoriferous. (Latinate for stinky, which is not so good.)

Read more

1:36pm

Tue July 3, 2012
Krulwich Wonders...

Showing Vultures A Little Love

Originally published on Wed August 1, 2012 12:32 pm

iStockphoto.com

Think of a giraffe lying on the Serengeti plain. He has just died, maybe of disease, maybe he was killed by a pride of lions, but now he's a 19-foot-long, 4,000-pound mound of meat, which very soon is going to stink and rot and muck up the neighborhood.

Read more

11:08am

Mon April 2, 2012
Krulwich Wonders...

To Map Or Not To Map The Brain? That's Tonight's Question

Originally published on Mon April 2, 2012 12:35 pm

Thomas Deerinck and Mark Ellisman Portraits of the Mind

"Mind is such an odd predicament for matter to get into," says the poet Diane Ackerman. "If a mind is just a few pounds of blood, dream and electric, how does it manage to contemplate itself? Worry about its soul? Do time and motion studies? Admire the shy hooves of a goat? Know that it will die?

...How can a neuron feel compassion?"

Yes, how?

Read more

1:14pm

Fri March 30, 2012
Krulwich Wonders...

Neuroscientists Battle Furiously Over Jennifer Aniston

Originally published on Fri March 30, 2012 3:54 pm

Stephen Lovekin, Carlos Alvarez, Kevin Winter Getty Images

Think of Jennifer, or as we like to call her, "Jen." Jen of the dazzling smile, Jen of the gorgeous chin, Jen with her hair down, Jen tousled, Jen as Rachel, Jen with Brad; Jen without Brad, Jen with Vince, Jen at the Oscars, and, of course, Jen as a neuron in the medial part of the temporal lobe.

Maybe you missed that last Jen.

A few years ago, a UCLA neurosurgeon named Itzhak Fried, while operating on patients who suffer from debilitating epileptic seizures, discovered what he now calls the "Jennifer Aniston Neuron."

Read more

9:59am

Wed March 28, 2012
Krulwich Wonders...

How To Spot A Mimic Octopus — The Mystery Revealed

Originally published on Wed March 28, 2012 12:02 pm

xkcd

In my last post, I wondered: How did Asian fishermen manage to discover the mimic octopus? Thaumoctopus mimicus is a wildly talented cephalopod that lives in shallow waters off Indonesia and Malaysia.

Read more

10:10am

Wed February 29, 2012
Krulwich Wonders...

Six-Legged Giant Finds Secret Hideaway, Hides for 80 Years

Originally published on Thu March 1, 2012 10:07 am

John White

No, this isn't a make-believe place. It's real.

They call it "Ball's Pyramid." It's what's left of an old volcano that emerged from the sea about 7 million years ago. A British naval officer named Ball was the first European to see it in 1788. It sits off Australia, in the South Pacific. It is extremely narrow, 1,844 feet high, and it sits alone.

Read more

1:30pm

Mon October 31, 2011
Krulwich Wonders...

Who Left A Tree, Then A Coffin In The Library?

Originally published on Tue December 6, 2011 3:35 pm

Chris Scott flickr

Update: The Library Phantom Returns! See Part 2 of the mystery.

It started suddenly. Without warning.

Last spring, Julie Johnstone, a librarian at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, was wandering through a reading room when she saw, sitting alone on a random table, a little tree.

It was made of twisted paper and was mounted on a book.

Read more

12:01am

Wed September 28, 2011
Krulwich Wonders...

Wanna Live Forever? Become A Noun

Adam Cole NPR

Adam: When I say "Henry Shrapnel, Jules Leotard, Robert Bunsen," you think — what?
Me: That they're inventors?
Adam: No. Better than that. Each one has become immortal. They're nouns!
Me: Is that a good thing, becoming a noun? ...
Adam: Are you kidding? It's a wonderful thing. A thing to sing about.
Me: You're going to sing?
Adam: If I may ...

Read more

12:01am

Mon September 19, 2011
Krulwich Wonders...

Lucretius, Man of Modern Mystery

Lucretius, circa 55 B.C.
Spencer Arnold Getty Images

Before he became a Professor of literature at Harvard, and way before he wrote his classic Shakespeare biography, Will in The World, Stephen Greenblatt was an I'll-read-anything kind of kid. One day, he was standing in the campus book store, and there, in a bin, selling for ten cents (good price, even in 1961) he noticed a thin, little volume called On the Nature of Things, by a Roman writer named Lucretius.

Read more

9:46am

Wed August 3, 2011
Krulwich Wonders...

Living Very, Very Narrowly

Courtesy of Jakub Szczesny Centrala

There are two apartment buildings in my Manhattan neighborhood that share a block. They sit very close. One is about nine inches from the other. In the small vertical space between them, a horde of finches have built themselves nest upon nest upon nest rising for nine human floors. It's a finch skyscraper. In March and April you can see finches busily flying in and out of this vertical crack, bearing twigs, grasses and nest-building material.

Read more

12:27pm

Mon August 1, 2011
Krulwich Wonders...

Food On A Plate Shouldn't Move

Originally published on Mon August 1, 2011 2:07 pm

YouTube

There should be a law that says food on a plate shouldn't move.

Especially when you're about to eat it.

Read more

4:49am

Mon July 25, 2011
Krulwich Wonders...

When Does A Person Start To Boil?

Lev Yilmaz

It's hot. I know, I know.

But, have you ever wondered how much heat you can take?

232 years ago, three British gentlemen decided to find out.

They designed a room, sealed it off, and heated it to 211 degrees, that's one degree shy of water-boiling hot.

What would happen, they wondered, if they stepped in and stayed? Could they take 211 degrees? How about 212? How about higher?

At what point does a person start to boil? These were very daring gentlemen. And just to make it more interesting, they brought three other "subjects" into the room:

Read more

1:08pm

Mon June 27, 2011
Krulwich Wonders...

Baseball 'Bot, Please Do My Dishes

"Rollin Justin" the robot.
German Aerospace Center

Me: So what's this?

Dave Mosher: A state-of-the-art, baseball-catching robot.

Me: A what?

DM: A robot that catches baseballs without a glove. And when I say balls, that's what I mean: this guy can catch two bare-handed — at the same time!

Me: You don't need to catch two balls in baseball.

DM: Germans built this robot...

Me: Ah...

DM: Anyway, you've got to see this...

Me: Wow!

Read more

12:51pm

Mon June 20, 2011
Krulwich Wonders...

Clouds Appearing Suddenly, Suddenly Explained

amarvelousview Flickr

Last week, I wrote a post about cloud watching and invited readers to send photos. To everybody who sent a cloud my way, thank you. Especially to "Bachman Ivory," who made a video that shows Air magically turning into Cloud. It's a textbook example of mountain slope cloud formation, from Stony Man Mountain in Shenandoah National Park.

Read more

10:10am

Fri June 17, 2011
Krulwich Wonders...

Isn't That A ...?

Originally published on Thu September 13, 2012 12:11 pm

Clouds by Vik Muniz, skywriting over New York City
Photo by Charlie Samuels Creative Time

It's getting warm enough now to climb a hill, lay down in the grass, look up at the clouds, and, as Shakespeare once said, "mock our eyes with air." Which you can do ... like in this image by Brazilian artist Vik Muniz.

Read more

10:59am

Tue June 14, 2011
Krulwich Wonders…

Getouttamyway! (Thoughts On City Traffic)

I've been to Rome, so I've seen the dark side: a traffic intersection where everybody decides to get where they're going at the same time, so no one gets anywhere. Cairo might be even worse. This isn't a parking lot, it's a street...

City people are always pushing; if you think you won't get caught, you keep moving. The rules don't matter. The signs don't matter.

Read more

12:46pm

Fri June 10, 2011
Krulwich Wonders…

Gut Bacteria Know Secrets About Your Future

Barcroft/Fame Pictures

You have a hundred trillion of these guys in you right now. Before you were born, you had hardly any.

Back then, you were floating in amniotic fluid, protected, sanitized. Bacteria kept their distance. Until you slipped down that birth canal, you were pretty much spic-and-span.

Read more

12:37pm

Tue June 7, 2011
Krulwich Wonders…

Ghost Of Betty Friedan Miraculously Appears On LA Street (Maybe)

Dan Mercandante Everynone

I'd like to do a little poll here, if I could.

The other day I was watching a video, shot by my friend Dan Mercandante (a Radiolab regular) who was standing on a street in Los Angeles when two people happened by, the two you see here, one of them in black jogging clothes, that's a guy, the other in a polka-dot jacket, that's a woman.

Dan, on impulse, just turned and followed them.

Read more

Pages