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.



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


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.

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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.

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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.

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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 ...

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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.

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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.

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Mon August 1, 2011
Krulwich Wonders...

Food On A Plate Shouldn't Move

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


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

Especially when you're about to eat it.

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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:

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Mon June 6, 2011
Krulwich Wonders…

8-Legged Mom Has 50,000 Babies While 2-Legged Woman Watches

Laurynn, I presume?
Laurynn Evans YouTube

After my last post, the one about giant Pacific octopus moms and their 50,000-plus babies, Laurynn Evans, a reader in Seattle, sent me a video. Laurynn, it turns out, often spends her winter evenings diving into the ocean, not too far from Harbor Avenue in downtown West Seattle.

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Thu June 2, 2011
Krulwich Wonders…

The Hardest Working Mom On The Planet

Antar Dayal Getty Images

This is egg laying season, if you're a bird.

If you're an octopus, particularly a giant Pacific octopus, you've been there, done that. In fact, you died doing it, in what is the saddest mommy story I've heard in a long while. It comes from biologist Jim Cosgrove who describes it all in a lecture he calls, "No Mother Could Give More."

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Tue May 31, 2011
Krulwich Wonders…

Calvin, Hobbes And Comic Book Biology

Courtesy of Pants Are Overrated

Something isn't right here. There are creatures among us — a puppy named Snoopy, a boy named Charlie Brown, a wild dagger-haired tempest called Calvin — who don't ever, ever, ever grow up. They're not allowed.

They come from a corner of the universe where puppies, boys and tigers live and dream until the day whoever created them says, "enough." After that, they don't die (at least, not in the usual way,) they get recycled and go on forever.

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Tue May 24, 2011
Krulwich Wonders…

Nature's Secret: Why Honey Bees Are Better Politicians Than Humans

Originally published on Tue October 23, 2012 4:49 pm

Adam Cole NPR

In the spring, bee hives get so rich with honey, so crowded with baby bees, they often burst in two. Some bees stay in the original nest with a new queen, but a second group, led by the old queen, heads off to establish a new home. If there's a cloud of bees hanging by a tree branch in your back yard, that's them — the house hunters.

How do they choose a new home?

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Fri May 20, 2011
Krulwich Wonders…

A Mouth I Can't Stop Thinking About

Tomasz Jedrzejowski

What ARE these creatures? Come on, these can't be real.

But they are. (Or were.)

What we have here is "Sk00tie's" (also known as Polish artist Tomasz Jedrzejowski's) rendering of two Platybelodons on a sunny day about 10 million years ago doing a little "shoveling."

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Wed May 18, 2011
Krulwich Wonders…

The Ghost Of Madame Curie Protests...

Marie Curie circa 1931.
Hulton Archive Getty Images

With all the news about Monsieur Strauss-Kahn and the hotel maid in New York, plus Arnold Schwarzenegger's extra marital baby, I got to thinking about the not-so-subtle way women have been treated in science, even the most celebrated ones.

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Mon May 16, 2011
Krulwich Wonders…

Cinderella's Ball, This Time With Pendulums

Harvard Natural Sciences Lecture Demonstrations YouTube

What we have here is better, more cunning and a damn sight more beautiful than magic. It's a pendulum dance.

A team at Harvard built this device. It's got 15 free-swinging pendulums, each a different length.

The longest one does 51 swings a minute.

Its neighbor, a little shorter, does 52 swings...the next, 53, then 54 and so on...

The little guy down at the end does 65 swings a minute...

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Thu May 12, 2011
Krulwich Wonders…

Strange Things Happen To Guys Who Wear Pants

Vin Liota for NPR

As a general matter, animals move, plants don't.

That's why this time of year plants launch their seeds into the moving air, catching springtime breezes, or take advantage of sparrows, pigeons, seagulls, sheep, shaggy dogs, and attach their seeds to moving animals.

You and I, of course, are moving animals, and I think you'll be surprised by the number of seeds we matter-of-factly and totally unconsciously carry with us as we wander about. The numbers are a little startling.

Case in point: men's pants.

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Tue May 10, 2011
Krulwich Wonders…

The Loneliest Plant In The World

One day in 1895, while walking through the Ngoya Forest in Zululand, southern Africa, a botanist with the oh so suitable name of John Medley Wood caught sight of a tree. It sat on a steep slope at the edge of the woods and looked different from the other trees, with its thick multiple trunks and what seemed like a splay of palm fronds on top. From a distance it looked almost like a palm tree, and Dr. Wood — who made his living collecting rare plants (he directed a botanical garden in Durban) had some of the stems pulled up, removed, and sent one of them to London.

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Thu May 5, 2011
Krulwich Wonders…

Dirty Dancing, A Gallant Spider Goes All The Way ...

Before I break your heart with a magnificent demonstration of naked, forlorn, magnificent passion, I should tell you a thing or two about the male jumping spider.

These spiders dance when they woo. Here's a quick, silent introduction showing their basic moves: We start with a flourish of side-to-side quicksteps, then two front legs are fully (and repeatedly) extended like a referee signaling "touchdown!"...

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Thu April 28, 2011
Krulwich Wonders…

Do Our Friends Make Us Fatter?

I used to hang around with this skinny guy, Jonah. Then he moved 3,000 miles away to Los Angeles where he is still skinny and where he writes a blog about science. Had he stayed here in New York and hung out with me a lot, Jonah might be a lot less skinny because I am not at all skinny and in Jonah's latest blogpost on Frontal Cortex, he reports that when skinny people spend a lot of time with non-skinny people, they tend, for some strange reason, to get fatter.

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Tue April 26, 2011
Krulwich Wonders…

Nature's Living Tape Recorders May Be Telling Us Secrets

Back in the 1930s there was a bird, an Australian bird, who had this thing for a human lady. The lady's name was Mrs. Wilkinson (I couldn't find her first name) and she lived in Australia. So did the bird. It visited her daily for food. She named it "James."

When James the bird decided to woo Mrs. Wilkinson, he built a mound in her backyard, stood on top of it, and sang. Mrs. Wilkinson, naturally flattered, invited some human friends to listen.

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Fri April 22, 2011
Krulwich Wonders…

To Conclude: We Can't Change Carbon, So...

Carbon is elemental. Its habits are fixed. It is what it is.

We, on the other hand, are adaptable, inventive, capable of change.

In this short summary, I root ... for us.

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Thu April 21, 2011
Krulwich Wonders…

Carbon In Love

In this episode, No. 4 of our carbon series, we get to the heart of the matter.

If there's a growing concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere, (and there is) why does that make the planet warmer?

In our cartoon and in the slideshow below, you see the CO2 molecule getting hit by the heat energy from bouncing light. And instead of breaking up, it just gets excited (the chemical equivalent of getting warmer). That's essentially the chemical explanation for global warming.

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Wed April 20, 2011
Krulwich Wonders…

Chewing On Carbon: The Celery Question

Once again, the subject is carbon. So far we've been celebrating carbon's ability to bond with other atoms. Today we get violent — and break those bonds.

When you eat a carrot, set fire to a piece of paper, or put a match to a lump of coal, carbon atoms are being yanked, juggled and ripped out of each other's embrace. People have gotten very good at breaking carbon bonds: that's how we light our cities, drive our cars, power our tools. But let's look at this from carbon's point of view...

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Tue April 19, 2011
Krulwich Wonders…

Carbon And 007: Both Of Them Bond, Both Of Them Frisky

Earth Day is coming up, so all this week we're talking about our planet, global warming and the element that makes global warming possible: carbon. Carbon, as we said in Episode 1, likes to hook up with other atoms using "bonds."

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