Radiolab helps launch first Ampersand Week

Popular duo, like Arts & Sciences, celebrates connections, curiosity at core of the liberal arts

Radiolab hosts Jad Abumrad (left) and Robert Krulwich bring their innovative ideas to Washington University Feb. 26 for the Assembly Series and Ampersand Week.
Radiolab hosts Jad Abumrad (left) and Robert Krulwich bring their innovative ideas to Washington University Feb. 26 for the Assembly Series and Ampersand Week.

To recognize the importance of the liberal arts on campus, Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis is hosting a weeklong celebration Feb. 21-28, titled Ampersand Week.

A featured event is a presentation by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, the hosts and producers of the popular nationally syndicated public radio program Radiolab.

Abumrad and Krulwich will appear at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 26, in Graham Chapel on the Danforth Campus for the Assembly Series. The program is free and open to the public but tickets are required.

Radiolab, a Peabody Award-winning show that airs locally on St. Louis Public Radio on Saturday afternoons, is a show about curiosity.

Abumrad and Krulwich use state-of-the-art sound design, mind-bending story-telling and a sense of humor to ask big questions and blur the boundaries between science, philosophy and human experience.

Sponsored by Arts & Sciences and the Office of the Provost, their presentation is an appropriate event for Ampersand Week, which aims to highlight what the “&” in Arts & Sciences represents.

“Arts & Sciences is the place where you can study physics and poetry or psychology and Spanish or American culture studies and international and area studies,” said Jennifer R. Smith, PhD, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, in a video below explaining why the ampersand is so integral to understanding the core of the discipline. “So we’re really about that bringing together.”

Referring to the twin fundamental missions of teaching and research in Arts & Sciences, Smith points to another essential coupling: “It’s not just the transmission of knowledge but also the creation of knowledge,” she said. “We’re the place where both of those things happen.”

Dean Jennifer Smith talks about the “and” in education and the significance of the ampersand.

Ampersand Week

Other highlights of Ampersand Week include a panel discussion with Arts & Sciences’ alumni sharing stories of how a strong foundation in the liberal arts not only shaped their careers but also formed their personal identities.

There also will be a faculty and student discussion on how great works of literature speak to us most effectively in times of trouble, tying in the unrest of the past six months in the St. Louis area.

To see the complete list of Ampersand Week events and to obtain tickets for the Radiolab presentation, visit

More about Radiolab

Traversing subjects from the arcane to the mundane, and from the real to the surreal, a typical Radiolab program is anything but typical. It begins with Abumrad and Krulwich postulating on a subject that intrigues them, say the history of football or gut microbes, then invites listeners to join them on an hour-long ride, taking joy in the journey of discovery.

The program airs weekly on more than 450 National Public Radio stations, with millions more listeners tuning in online.

In addition to the presentation, Abumrad and Krulwich will meet a group of students for lunch Feb. 26 before their appearance.

“It is going to be a great experience meeting Jad and Robert in person — I’ve pretty much mythologized them at this point,” said senior Tobeya Ibitayo, one of the students chosen for the experience.

“The kind of curiosity Radiolab encouraged definitely impacted my
personal and intellectual growth throughout middle and high school,” said Ibitayo, a double major in anthropology and African and African-American studies.

“Radiolab celebrates curiosity,” said Barbara A. Schaal,
PhD, dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences and the Mary-Dell
Chilton Distinguished Professor, “and that’s another message we hope to
get across about what drives our quest for discoveries in Arts & Sciences.”

For information on future Assembly Series events, visit or call 314-935-4620.