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Bigger Than Bacon

Monday, May 09, 2016 - 11:00 PM

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

It starts with a sound, rising like a mist from the marsh, around a dock in South Carolina. But where it goes next - from submarines to superheroes (and yes, Keanu Reeves!); from the surface of the sun to the middle of the brain - is far from expected. Producer Molly Webster brings her family along for the ride. Enjoy the adventure, before it...implodes. 

Produced by Molly Webster and Annie McEwen. Reported by Molly Webster. Guest sound designer, Jeremy Bloom.

Special thanks to Kullervo Hynynen, James Bird, and Lawrence Crum. 

After you listen to the episode (spoiler alerts):

Wanna see the shrimp bubble in super slowmo? Check it out here (and note, of the 1,400 views on this video, producer Molly Webster probably comprises 752).

If you want to see cavitation bubbles form, and think you might enjoy watching it happen in French, check this out - the high frame rate makes these shots divine. 

Bigger Better Bubbles 

Before Dave Stein, soap bubbles were round, smallish, and collapsed with a pop. Now, they are anything but. 

Today we explore the story of one man, who - in an instant, changed the art of bubble blowing and what it means to be a bubble forever. 

Produced by Simon Adler

Special thanks to Megan Colby Parker, Gary Pearlman, David Erk, Rick Findley and everyone who came out to blow giant bubbles with us in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. 

You can hear Jad's bubble dance party song here




Nancy Knowlton, Todd Mainprize, Dave Stein and Michel Versluis

Produced by:

Simon Adler and Molly Webster


More in:

Comments [65]

Ivor from Koh Phangan, Thailand.

Hi Radiolab! Love your show.

I listened to this episode a few months ago while home in South Africa.

Then, a few days ago I went snorkling in the Gulf of Thailand.
I had forgotten about the episode but the moment I put my head in the water there it was - bacon frying!

I had one of those awesome moments where you experience something and then you can add more to your experience because you also know something about your experience. Swimming around and knowing all these little guys are down there feverishly snapping away put a smile on my face, which messed a bit with the seal of my mask, but was totally worth it!

Please keep up the good work!


Feb. 28 2017 01:37 AM
Margie C from Athens GA

Can't believe you didn't use the song "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" in this last story!'m_Forever_Blowing_Bubbles

Feb. 09 2017 04:37 PM

So happy to read I wasn't the only one irritated by those annoying kids screeching into the microphone every 5 minutes.

Oct. 17 2016 04:53 PM

Wow... Not the broadcast, though that was great, but the mean comments below. Thought better of radiolab listeners - but I guess this proves that normal people become asshats when given the internet and anonymity. for the record:

1) The children were not talking for long so even if your immature Thalamus and Broca's Area rubbed your Amygdala the wrong way, just ignore it for short while, fast forward past that part, or take your cromag self to the bathroom for a minute, and then listen to the rest of the broadcast. You know... the one given for free?

2) I think it speaks volumes that you would choose to not gain knowledge because you find children annoying... Please keep finding them annoying and fail to reproduce your genes into the pool...

3) And this is the big one for me... The children are the nieces and nephews of Molly Webster, the reporter, so you are literally telling her that you find her family so annoying that you not only refuse to listen to her report she put all her hard work into, but that her family is so annoying that you had to take the time to stop what you are doing and point out to her how annoying her family is... That is so utterly rude...

Next time save yourself and and everyone sometime, and choose to just not post your rude comment - keep it to yourself - I know you think facebook has somehow empowered you to say anything you want since you think your are protected by anonymity, but here's the truth - there are things it is rude to say so keep them to yourselves...

And lest you call me hypocrite, my name is Chris Hockenberry, and you are free to email me at chockenberry at chambergate dot com if this is a concept you feel you need more lessons on...

Sep. 27 2016 08:12 PM

Really wanted to listen to this episode, sounded interesting, as usual. But could not handle the kids voices. Big fan of the show though!

Sep. 21 2016 05:39 PM
elissar from Netherlands

Hi guys I just came through your site yesterday and I am kind of addicted to it , the way you are presenting science is very unique and comprehensible easily , your narrating style is cool and fun, I listened up till now to 5 stories and I liked it all keep going

Aug. 07 2016 06:12 PM
Craig from Oregon

bubbles... lots of energy... sounds like thermal inkjet. (for a simple description)

Jul. 16 2016 12:36 PM
Marc and Brandon from Ann Arbor

Hey, it's funny you talk about turning a cavitation bubble into a Marvel character. We had a very similar thought and are currently writing a children's book on the subject with the bubble as the main character. We started this project in January and are putting the finishing touches on the illustrations now. We hope to publish within the next month.

For context, we are two graduate students at the University of Michigan studying bubbles and cavitation. If you want to see more about the project, please checkout

Marc and Brandon

Jul. 05 2016 04:41 PM
Michael from Las Vegas, NV

Hello, I just wanted to say that this was one of my favorite Radio labs. I listened to it on a road trip with my daughter and hearing the kids reminded me of when my daughter was little. We danced to the bubble music and we chuckled at the kids input and their guesses. I would like to request that the show include children more often.

Jun. 24 2016 07:08 PM
paul from NYC

Just listened and had to comment after stopping due to the likes. The scientist here is perfectly fluent, concise, and engaging, yet you choose to have Molly like-splain in halting like-filled intercuts. As a scientist who was led to a phd from the arts via good science journalism, I cannot abide the betrayal of substantive explanation for fluff. I assume Molly earned her narrator position by doing the research, hopefully she can work out her communication problems.

Jun. 13 2016 01:25 PM
Jason Teets from Detroit, MI

I enjoyed the ending of the show, and the profundity of David Stein. You can hear the somberness in his voice, as if he is haunted by the ghosts of his ancestral past. You can sense that he feels the moral weight of the A-bomb in his bloodline. Hearing that somberness juxtaposed with the happiness and pride he takes in having created the Bubble Thing was poignant to say the least.

Jun. 13 2016 12:48 PM
Roger from Everywhere/Nowhere

Another interesting podcast, but one that made me loose a trivia question. A jet engine produces about 140-150 decibels, not 220.

Jun. 10 2016 05:13 PM

Thank you for this great show! Can someone please explain why the shock wave would kill or stun the shrimp's prey, but not harm the shrimp? Thank you!

Jun. 01 2016 12:02 AM
Daniel Alvarado from San Antonio, Tx

Loved the aggressive sound design of this show! Whoever this James Bloom character is needs to have his own podcast. This is the sort of post - radio production that could make podcasts an even more artful medium. I was grinning every time the kids interrupted or the music engaged the story. Bravo.

May. 31 2016 03:53 PM
Carl Johnson from Orlando Florida

Fascinating show.

May. 31 2016 03:26 PM
Dominic from Oakland

Feel free to cease this gratuitous insertion of team family members into the podcasts. No doubt their family find these nieces' utterances cute and adorable, but I can't be alone in finding them excruciating. Keep it to the adults unless the kids are directly relevant, please.

May. 30 2016 11:57 AM

Youza, what a story!!! As a diver who got my own gear before I got a drivers license, I love it. I must and will read alot more about cavitation (which heard a bit about in Hunt for Red October), but I didn't understand several things- first I think it is a VACUUM BUBBLE, not so much a gas bubble, although it would have water vapor in it.

So the SNAP or explosion would be like lightning, from the air smashing back into the void. But where in the world can, A. 5000 degree temps come from in such a micro space (3mm diameter or 1/8")- there is no time or size to create such friction, B. Plasma come from, which I thought takes ~15,000K, and C. where is the Light flash- the videos I saw show no evidence of that, except for the bubble and collapse.

That said, would this be injurious to a diver's ears, and at what range? 220 decibels is tremendous- way higher than a jet plane- my drums at their max were probably 140 db, and water is a very good transmitter of sound. The oceans are amazingly silent, though there are dolphin chips and whale songs, never been around a real symphony, and I've swam with schools of dolphins- most audio is out of human's limited range.

The only thing that ever really hurt me underwater, among sharks, barracuda, manta rays, fire coral, moray eels, lion fish, stone fish (the Mexican guide had pushed my face from 1M to 1/2M ha ha- big joke- they are 60% fatal, the deadliest thing in the ocean)... was a big black urchin off Maui, which after I diddled the spines, started vibrating ("Look, I've excited it!" I thought in wonder) before it fired an alkaloid laced limestone dart halfway through my finger, then an inch away from the tip! The pain was incredible- I came out of the water and dug a huge hole in my finger trying to "extract" the crumbling weapon, then doused it with vinegar, the acid neutralized the alkaloid pain poison and dissolved the limestone, which I never even saw, except as a black form under the skin. I had always been terrified of urchins entering and exiting the water for very good reason (as it turned out)- if one got hit by 10 of those things at once, one would probably go into anaphalactic shock and drown!!!! (I was alergic to yellow-jackets). Interestingly every diver I asked there had never seen such gun toting behavior among the urchins, but then maybe none had tried to diddle one. Pushing the frontiers of science ever onward.

Why don't you arrogant dufuses ever answer any of your viewers' questions, or get the guest to a few days later????

May. 28 2016 11:34 PM

@Tommy from Nyc , who says "...language police are icky worms"

It's not language. It's a tic, one that is maddeningly distracting to hear over and over in conversation. Like "um" and "ah", it contributes nothing to the message, and rather, reveals the speaker's lack of confidence in and commitment to what s/he is saying. Between the "like"s and the kung-fu editing in this piece, I barely hung on to the end. I did so because the actual topic was interesting. There is something to be said for fluid speech: it is simply more pleasant to listen to and easier to understand.

May. 27 2016 01:46 PM
JP from Austin TX

Did the camera capture at, LIKE, thousands of frames per second? Or was it actually thousands of frames per second?

Did the scientists see, LIKE, a bubble? Or did they actually see a bubble?

Did they SORT OF KIND OF see how it all goes down, and it SORT OF unfolds like this?

Does the jet of water shoot out at LIKE 60mph? I mean, the scientist had *just said* that it shoots out at 60mph.

At least the scientist was able to speak clearly and concisely. I wish we could say the same for your, LIKE, producer.

I could probably list more examples but I couldn't finish the episode. What a departure from the crispness of your first several seasons.

May. 26 2016 10:20 PM
asdf from usa

Why is this woman laughing at everything she brings up.. We get it lady, you're a cool mom. Chill.

May. 26 2016 04:08 PM
Karl from London

Love the show as always. The link between the Dave Stein's grandfather and his own sense of self was beautiful. Have to admit I did think the editing of that piece took away from the story. Dave had a clear voice which was full of character. Having the same story told by two people at the same time was difficult to listen to. Felt almost disrespectful to Dave, like you were hurrying him along. LOVE the show, but feel this editing style can really take away from the impact of great stories.

May. 24 2016 07:34 AM
Mike from Chicago

Thank you so much for this episode. One of my favorites now. This episode perfectly illustrates how a simple "What is that?" Can lead down a path to new discoveries. Please keep up the work. You guys are one of the main reasons I will never stop loving to learn. Please keep teaching me.

May. 20 2016 06:08 PM
Marah from lafayette, CO

Awesome to see the magic and mysteries of the big blue sea bringing told by the talents at Radio Lab. If you haven't yet, you guys should link to this FANTASTIC cartoon by The Oatmeal all about the Mantis Shrimp and why its just totally awesome. It's 80% of your story, in a strip, lacking the fantastic music and broader context but with some pretty great atomic rainbows.

May. 20 2016 03:54 PM
milos from Belgrade,Serbia

the most boring episode eveeeeeeeer

May. 20 2016 10:36 AM
Robin from Ca

Great episode as usual!

What about the music at the very end of the episode? I loved the atmospheric sound of it!

May. 19 2016 06:54 PM
Why from Murika

It seems like almost every Radiolab has comments about how "I used to love Radiolab but this episode was the WORST". Are Radiolab listeners prone to long negative proclamations?

Those shrimp are pretty rad.

May. 19 2016 02:49 PM
Jack from California

There's a fine line between an engaging, narrative story and a cutesy obnoxious one. Commenters are picking on Molly and the kids but even Robert's disingenuous "oooh"s contributed. The content was great, but the "mystery" was so forced at the beginning, and delivered in such a cutesy way, that it distracted from the content. I like Molly, I don't mind the kids, I like the style of the show, but this was horribly over produced and trying too hard to be clever. What made Radiolab great in the past was a perfect sense of that balance. Entertaining without overtaking the lesson. Subject matter, not spectacle, should always come first.

May. 19 2016 11:45 AM
Deepak VIJAYAKUMAR from Dublin, Ireland

I have been listening to This American Life how am I only finding out about this podcast now!

May. 18 2016 06:12 PM
Mike Soltys from Boulder, co

The whole bubble process is called cavitation. It also leads to failures on ship propellers and electric turbines.

May. 18 2016 04:12 PM

You have wonderful story, but you guys are getting too carried away in the editing room and it's all end too 'chopped off'...

May. 18 2016 12:48 AM
julian norton from new york, ny

oh my god the kids voices were so annoying.

May. 17 2016 03:09 PM
DPendraig from Canton, GA

As much as I enjoyed the show. Hearing her use the word "like" every 15 seconds was more that I could bear.

May. 17 2016 02:55 PM
Dicky Horn from UK

PLEASE RADIOLAB, tell me where the Bubble music came from.

Regarding the kids:

I think that they did add to to episode. They added to a sense of wonder and delight for discovery that most kid have, but which seems to evaporate during adolescence in most people.

May. 15 2016 03:09 PM
Flip Schrameijer from Te Netherlands

The story about the shrimps was fascinating and mind-boggling. What made me sit up straight however (if I hadn't been walking the dog) is that I have a very dear friend walking around with an inoperable brain-tumor the size of a pigeon egg! It's in the prefrontal area and cannot be reached without destroying vital brain area's.
So of course I wonder what progress has been made.
The New Scientist article you supplied is from June 2014 and before the first trial. In the podcast last December is mentioned...
There are several other articles online from November 2015, saying the first patient was recently treated and nine patients would be next.
I'm anxious to know what has happened since and what indications there are for success...
A follow-up on this is clearly warranted!

May. 14 2016 04:21 PM
Joseph Chang from San Antonio

Hi. I appreciate the story and don't mind the conversational tone, but I don't feel like the banter with the children added much to the story. I don't hate kids, but I don't think it's an appropriate way to frame the story. In my opinion, it was a little jarring to be hearing the science interspersed with baby talk. I'd be okay if it were limited to just a segment, but I didn't find it necessary to get their theories reactions on everything, especially when it added nothing to the story. After all, this is a science podcast, not a Molly Webster babysitting podcast.

May. 14 2016 01:31 PM
Jeff from Greenville

I loved this episode. As a former submariner who has listen to snapping shrimp for countless hours, you finally unravelled the mystery of "how" those shrimp make so much noise. Thanks!

May. 14 2016 08:20 AM
Lina from California

I love Radiolab but the children's voices got highly annoying. Turned it off in the middle.

May. 13 2016 11:35 PM
JP from California

Absolutely loved the episode. And I found the narration from kids in the episode cute. That made the episode much more fun. I am not sure why so many folks here are feeling bad about it.

May. 13 2016 12:37 PM
Alex from Upstate NY

Great story. Love the humor, the science, the unpretentious discussion. The nitpickers in the comments section need to lighten up. My 15 year old daughter -- who's leery of science -- loved this, mainly because of Molly's easy-to-relate-to conversational tone (including the use of "like"). Thank you for making science so accessible and interesting.

May. 13 2016 10:17 AM
Tommy from Nyc

Radiolab is, by nature, a conversational podcast. That's part of what makes it so engaging and distinct from straighter NPR reporting like All Things Considered. What it also means, however, is that listeners, by deciding to listen, are also deciding to hear how people actually speak to each other. That includes the use of the word "like." Terrifying, I know - but if it bothers you, stop listening. How is that not obvious by now? I applaud the show for having the resolve to report what they want, how they want. It's what keep radiolab from sounding like some awful reflection of the grievances of pedants.

TLDR: language police are icky worms

May. 12 2016 10:12 PM
Richard from U.K.

Fantastic story telling. I'm a Biology teacher so I already knew all the science, but it was still great fun to listen to. I really admire the way you guys paint such a vivid picture with words. Love the music too!
Good job Molly.

May. 12 2016 02:43 PM

Robert, you have done a piece on Mantis Shrimp before so I was a little surprised at your incredulity regarding this shrimp's ability to pretty much do something similar.

May. 12 2016 12:23 PM
Kathy from PA

Our whole family loves radiolab. I am not being mean with this comment just surprised that someone allowed it to happen. Molly Webster needs to correct her use of "like" when she speaks. While this was a fun episode can you imagine reporting on a war or famine with this speech pattern. We look to NPR and shows such as yours to be role models for our teenage son and daughter on many things including public speaking.

May. 12 2016 10:20 AM
Steve Smith from San Diego, Ca

I thought the episode, especially the children, was as interesting and entertaining as all of your shows! Thank you for being you Radiolab and Molly Webster... You guys ROCK!

May. 12 2016 08:26 AM

Very interesting episode as usual. Amazing storytelling.

Agree with all the comments, please no more Molly Webster or her kids, super distracting and annoying.

May. 11 2016 10:35 PM
James from Texas

Great episode, as fascinating as always. Please keep up the superb work, RadioLab folks.

It's a minor point, but I am compelled to clarify that many drugs are capable of crossing the blood brain barrier, without any assistance from tiny shrimp. Caffeine, alcohol, THC, Benadryl, nicotine, are some that spring immediately to mind; and truthfully, any chemical that has an effect on the brain must necessarily be capacity of crossing the blood brain barrier all on its own.

What this technology might revolutionize, is providing the capability for drugs that we would like to have work in the brain that are currently excluded.

May. 11 2016 10:33 PM
Lux from Philadelphia

I would have enjoyed this episode weren't for the children's voices. Not everyone finds those pleasant.

May. 11 2016 04:11 PM
Lydia from Los Angeles

I thought this episode did a great job of unfolding an unexpected connection from a seemingly arcane scientific discovery. science has applications far beyond what we anticipate.

who cares if it's big tent? let's get people interested in science folks. this isn't supposed to be CSPAN for science.

May. 11 2016 04:06 PM
Jeremy from Saint Paul

Here I thought a more sciencey episode would have appeased the commenters who decry any episode that doesn't feature someone with an advanced degree in a hard science, but nope! It's always a good time to nitpick a female reporter, even one who doesn't have "vocal fry." I thought Molly did a great job.

May. 11 2016 01:10 PM

So hard to actually pay attention to this episode, I kept zoning out whenever I had to listen to the kids.

May. 11 2016 12:29 PM
Lynnette from Bradenton, Florida

OMG! We live on a boat in Florida and the shrimp are SO LOUD!! At first we thought the sound was something wrong with the boat. They crackle like popcorn.

May. 11 2016 12:27 PM

This was neat, I didn't know shrimp were used to hide subs during the war. Also very cool how these bubbles work!

Not my favourite episode but still interesting

May. 11 2016 11:05 AM

Good job! I didn't even notice Mollys use of "like", I think people are focusing on the wrong thing...

Really cool about the shrimp though! I never knew about sonoluminescence before.

May. 11 2016 10:58 AM
John from US

I thought I was the only one who hated Molly Webster's overuse of the word "like"! Glad to see I'm not alone.

Radiolab used to be interesting. Now the comments section is filled with "hey, what's that music at the X:XX mark?"

Also, can we all just shut up about bacon already?

May. 11 2016 09:31 AM
Scott from California

So the blood brain barrier is just like the wall in The Game of Thrones. Got it. Thank you for that in-depth scientific reporting.
Seriously though, I've been a regular listener since "09". Please bring back the old Radio Lab

May. 11 2016 06:30 AM

I hope I never hear Molly Webster report again. The use of the word "like" made me think I was back in middle school and all the cuts back and forth between her voice and the true scientist behind this story was cringeworthy. Missed on this episode

May. 11 2016 12:34 AM
Matt from Atlanta

Went back and listened to the description a second time and confirmed that, as best I can tell, the term "cavitation" is never actually uttered in this episode. The imaginative description is fun storytelling and is one of the reasons I love RadioLab, but I feel like not identifying the process by its name, especially one so well known, was rather irresponsible. ...If I'm wrong and the term is in there somewhere, then I will bow as corrected.

May. 10 2016 11:19 PM
Kim Cook from Texas

I love your show! Very creative how you overlap the comments to tell a story more quickly. Including the kids in this week's show was adorable. On top of that, a great story! You always have such different topics to discuss. Keep up the good work!!

May. 10 2016 09:37 PM
Daniel from Tucson

Wonderful feature. I've heard this crackling anytime I went diving or snorkeling. The only question I have is, where does the air come from in the cavitation bubble? Is it possible that it really is water vapor, and not air?

May. 10 2016 01:51 PM
louise from london, uk

Quantum Foam 3D Foil wallpaper!!

All this talk of tiny shrimp, walls and bubbles to save the day

May. 10 2016 12:23 PM
Roger from Oxford, UK

Yes, music list please!

May. 10 2016 11:09 AM

You have a broken link to the youtube video, although it's easy to figure out what it really is:

May. 10 2016 10:55 AM
Casey from Chicago

I also want the bubble dance song! The music in this episode was phenomenal.

May. 10 2016 10:27 AM
Tori Brown from Detroit, MI

Wow, the whole bubble creation from these little shrimp take me back to your Color episode, with the mantis shrimp. Don't they strike prey so fast that they create a weird bubbly burst of energy with their claws, too? Cavitation bubbles? Why are shrimp so cool?

^Also, I agree with Nik about the bubble dance song. What is that song?

May. 10 2016 10:24 AM
Nik from Chicago

Can we please see a the songs used in this episode!? I really want to found out the bubble dance party song. Thanks!

May. 10 2016 10:09 AM

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