RadioLab

Sat 3-4pm & Tue 9-10pm
  • Hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich

A sonic exploration into the frontiers of science and human behavior, with hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. From WNYC in New York.

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  • Tuesday, May 22, 2018 3:45pm

    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

  • Thursday, May 17, 2018 7:39pm

    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.

  • Thursday, April 26, 2018 3:00pm

    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 (the photo to the right was taken during that mission, courtesy of NASA.). Dave wasn't alone -- with him was veteran Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Solovyev. (That's a picture of Dave giving Anatoly a hug on board the Mir, also courtesy of NASA).

    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.

    Pilobolus creates a shadow astronaut during Dave Wolf's story on stage (photo by Lars Topelmann):

    The audience turns Portland's Keller auditorium into a view of outer space with thousands of LED lights (photo by Lars Topelmann):

    Here's Dave Wolf in the dark darkness of space, performing a spacewalk in 2009 (courtesy of NASA):

    To give you an idea of what it looks like during the brightness of day, here's another photo taken in 2009 -- more than a decade after the adventure described in our podcast -- this time of astronaut Tom Marshburn (Dave Wolf is with him, out of frame, photo courtesy of NASA):

    This episode was produced by Matt Kielty and Soren Wheeler. 

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

  • Friday, April 20, 2018 2:05am

    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 Carlo Albán, Sandra Lopez-Monsalve, Chava Gourarie, Lynn M. Morgan, Mike Wells and Tom Barry.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

     

    CORRECTION: An earlier version of this episode incorrectly stated that a person's gender can be identified from bone remains. We've adjusted the audio to say that a person's sex can be identified from bone remains. 

  • Thursday, April 5, 2018 10:31pm

    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.

     

    CORRECTION: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that Silvestre Reyes's brother died in a car accident in 1968; it was actually his father who died in the accident.  We also omitted a detail about the 1997 GAO report that we quote, namely that it predicted that as deaths in the mountains and deserts might rise, deaths in other areas might also fall. The audio has been adjusted accordingly.