Jon Hamilton

Jon Hamilton has served as a correspondent for NPR's science desk since 1998. His current beat includes neuroscience, health risks, behavior, and bioterrorism. Recent pieces include a series on the chemical perchlorate, which is turning up in California's water supply; a government effort to find out just how many autistic children there are in the U.S.; and an exploration of "neuromarketing."

Before joining NPR in 1998, Hamilton was a media fellow with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation studying health policy issues. He completed a project on states that have radically changed their Medicaid programs for the poor by enrolling beneficiaries in private HMOs.

From 1995-1997, Hamilton wrote on health and medical topics as a freelance writer, after having been a medical reporter for both The Commercial Appeal and Physician's Weekly.

Hamilton graduated with honors from Oberlin College in Ohio with a B.A. in English. As a student, he was the editor of the Oberlin Review student newspaper. He earned his master's degree in journalism from Columbia University where he graduated with honors, won the Baker Prize for magazine writing, and earned a Sherwood traveling fellowship.

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6:34pm

Wed March 19, 2014
Shots - Health News

Alzheimer's Diagnosis Expanding To Catch Early Warning Signs

Originally published on Thu March 20, 2014 8:17 am

Doctors may eventually be able to diagnose "preclinical" Alzheimer's in patients who have abnormal brain scans but who aren't yet showing behavioral symptoms of the disease.
iStockphoto

Alzheimer's disease isn't what it used to be. After 30 years of having doctors diagnose the disease by symptoms alone, researchers and advocacy groups are calling for new diagnostic criteria that recognize changes in the brain as well as changes in behavior.

The goal is to eventually allow doctors to diagnose "preclinical" Alzheimer's in patients who do not have problems with memory or thinking, but who do have an abnormal brain scan or some other sign that the disease may be developing.

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2:04pm

Sun March 9, 2014
Shots - Health News

Alzheimer's Blood Test Raises Ethical Questions

Originally published on Mon March 10, 2014 9:59 am

Scientists have long sought a way to detect Alzheimer's before symptoms appear.
iStockphoto

An experimental blood test can identify people in their 70s who are likely to develop Alzheimer's disease within two or three years. The test is accurate more than 90 percent of the time, scientists reported Sunday in Nature Medicine.

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5:28pm

Wed February 26, 2014
The Salt

Maybe That BPA In Your Canned Food Isn't So Bad After All

Originally published on Wed April 30, 2014 12:39 pm

Should you fear a chemical inside metal food containers like the ones that hold beans? Government scientists say no.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

Maybe BPA isn't so bad after all.

The plastic additive has been vilified by environmental advocacy groups. But the chemical had no effect on rats fed thousands of times the amount a typical person ingests, government scientists are reporting in the journal Toxicological Sciences.

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3:35am

Mon February 24, 2014
Shots - Health News

Orphans' Lonely Beginnings Reveal How Parents Shape A Child's Brain

Originally published on Tue February 25, 2014 12:07 pm

In the Institute for the Unsalvageable in Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania, shown here in 1992, children were left in cribs for days on end.
Tom Szalay

Parents do a lot more than make sure a child has food and shelter, researchers say. They play a critical role in brain development.

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3:00pm

Mon January 27, 2014
Shots - Health News

Stricter Autism Criteria Unlikely To Reduce Services For Kids

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 1:55 pm

Clinical specialist Catey Funaiock took notes while observing a 5-year-old boy at the Marcus Autism Center, part of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, in September.
David Goldman AP

The clinical definition for when a child has some form of autism has been tightened. And these narrower criteria for autism spectrum disorder probably will reduce the number of kids who meet the new standard.

But researchers say the changes, which were rolled out last May, are likely to have a bigger effect on government statistics than on the care of the nation's children.

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3:16am

Tue January 21, 2014
Shots - Health News

Mild-Mannered Stingrays Can Inflict A World Of Hurt

Originally published on Wed January 22, 2014 8:08 am

The round stingray is native to the eastern Pacific coast and is notorious for injuring swimmers and surfers.
laszlo-photo/Flickr

Want to get away? Thinking about a place with warm water and soft sand? Sounds nice. But think twice before you wade into that inviting surf. Chances are there are stingrays in the area.

Every year, these timid, shellfish-eating cousins of the shark inflict excruciating injuries on thousands of swimmers and surfers from the Bahamas to Bahrain to both coasts of the United States.

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3:22am

Fri December 27, 2013
Shots - Health News

Can A Fruit Fly Help Explain Autism?

Originally published on Fri December 27, 2013 10:54 am

A newly discovered neural circuit in the brain of the common fruit fly seems to serve as a sort of "volume control," turning up and down the perception of sound and light.
Nicholas Monu iStockphoto

For President Obama, 2013 wasn't just the year of Obamacare. It was also the year of the brain.

In April, Obama announced his Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative — an effort to unlock "the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears."

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4:36pm

Thu December 26, 2013
Shots - Health News

Experimental Tool Uses Light To Tweak The Living Brain

Originally published on Mon December 30, 2013 8:09 am

A technique called optogenetics is being used in the laboratory to observe and control what brain circuits are doing in real time.
Henning Dalhoff Getty Images/Science Photo Library RM

When President Obama announced his BRAIN Initiative in April, he promised to give scientists "the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action."

An early version of one of those tools already exists, scientists say. It's a relatively new set of techniques called optogenetics that allows researchers to control the activity of brain cells using light.

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3:40pm

Tue December 24, 2013
Shots - Health News

Could Pot Help Veterans With PTSD? Brain Scientists Say Maybe

Originally published on Wed December 25, 2013 11:50 am

There's data to support the notion that pot, or a drug based on its active ingredient, could help ease the fears of PTSD.
Ted S. Warren AP

Veterans who smoke marijuana to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder may be onto something. There's growing evidence that pot can affect brain circuits involved in PTSD.

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2:55pm

Fri November 29, 2013
Environment

'Forecast Bust:' Why 2013 Hurricane Predictions Were So Wrong

Originally published on Fri November 29, 2013 6:49 pm

Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro. The 2013 Atlantic hurricane season ends tomorrow. It'll be remembered as one of the quietest on record. Since June, there have been just two hurricanes, both were relatively weak. As NPR's Jon Hamilton reports, forecasters were expecting something very different.

JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told Americans to expect an unusually active year with between seven and 11 hurricanes. Other forecasters offered variations on that theme.

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2:03pm

Thu November 28, 2013
Shots - Health News

Brain Cells 'Geotag' Memories To Cache What Happened — And Where

Originally published on Mon December 2, 2013 6:13 am

Benjamin Arthur for NPR

Think back to an important event in your life: a graduation, a birth, a special Thanksgiving dinner. Chances are you're remembering not only what happened, but also where it happened. And now scientists think they know why.

As we form so-called episodic memories, the brain appears to be using special cells in the hippocampus to "geotag" each event, researchers report in Science. The process is similar to what some digital cameras do when they tag each picture with information about where the image was taken.

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2:54am

Mon November 25, 2013
Shots - Health News

In Pregnancy, What's Worse? Cigarettes Or The Nicotine Patch?

Originally published on Tue November 26, 2013 1:41 pm

Illustration by Daniel Horowitz for NPR

Lots of studies have shown that cigarette smoke isn't good for a fetus. So many pregnant women use nicotine gum or skin patches or inhalers to help them stay away from cigarettes.

A few years ago, Megan Stern became one of those women. "I smoked heavily for the first seven weeks of my pregnancy because I didn't know I was pregnant," she says. "It was an accidental pregnancy, and I found out while I was in the emergency room for another issue."

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4:01pm

Fri November 15, 2013
Shots - Health News

Federal Brain Science Project Aims To Restore Soldiers' Memory

Originally published on Fri November 15, 2013 8:07 pm

President Obama has pledged millions of dollars to fuel research into understanding the workings of the human brain.
Zephyr Science Source

When President Obama announced his plan to explore the mysteries of the human brain seven months ago, it was long on ambition and short on details.

Now some of the details are being sketched in.

The BRAIN Initiative will include efforts to restore lost memories in war veterans, create tools that let scientists study individual brain circuits and map the nervous system of the fruit fly.

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3:02am

Tue November 12, 2013
Shots - Health News

The Case Against Brain Scans As Evidence In Court

Originally published on Tue November 12, 2013 5:39 pm

When researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College scanned teenage brains, they found that the area that regulates emotional responses has to work harder to keep impulses in check.
Courtesty Kristina Caudle Developmental Neuroscience

It's not just people who go on trial these days. It's their brains.

More and more lawyers are arguing that some defendants deserve special consideration because they have brains that are immature or impaired, says Nita Farahany, a professor of law and philosophy at Duke University who has been studying the use of brain science in court.

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9:27am

Mon November 11, 2013
Shots - Health News

Sweat Your Way To A Healthier Brain

Originally published on Tue November 12, 2013 8:14 am

He feels smarter already.
iStockphoto.com

Moving your body may be the best way to protect your brain.

Physical exercise can ease depression, slow age-related memory loss and prevent Parkinson-like symptoms, researchers reported at the Society for Neuroscience meeting underway in San Diego.

The findings — some in animals, some in people — suggest that people may be making a mistake if they're relying primarily on crossword puzzles and brain-training games for mental wellness.

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6:14pm

Thu October 10, 2013
Shots - Health News

Shutdown Imperils Costly Lab Mice, Years Of Research

Originally published on Thu October 10, 2013 8:33 pm

Bob Adams is a lab animal veterinarian at Johns Hopkins University.
Maggie Starbard NPR

The government shutdown is likely to mean an early death for thousands of mice used in research on diseases such as diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer's.

Federal research centers including the National Institutes of Health will have to kill some mice to avoid overcrowding, researchers say. Others will die because it is impossible to maintain certain lines of genetically altered mice without constant monitoring by scientists. And most federal scientists have been banned from their own labs since Oct. 1.

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5:39pm

Wed October 2, 2013
Shots - Health News

A DEET-Like Mosquito Spray That Smells Like Jasmine Or Grapes?

Originally published on Fri October 4, 2013 9:56 am

Scientists have discovered four new DEET-like mosquito repellents. Three of them are safe to eat.
Courtesy of Pinky Kai/University of California, Riverside

California scientists are reporting a pair of victories in the epic struggle between man and mosquito.

A team at the University of California, Riverside, appears to have finally figured out how bugs detect the insect repellent known as DEET. And the team used its discovery to identify several chemical compounds that promise to be safer and cheaper than DEET, according to the report in the journal Nature.

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3:43am

Wed September 25, 2013
Environment

Wild Weather Tied To Unusual Jet Stream Activity

Originally published on Wed September 25, 2013 6:25 am

Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio NASA

There has been a lot of extreme weather in the Northern Hemisphere this year, including the recent torrential rains in Colorado, flooding in Europe, bitter cold in Florida and a heat wave in Alaska. And scientists say all of it is related to some odd behavior by the powerful air currents called the polar jet stream.

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3:37am

Mon September 23, 2013
Shots - Health News

How A Pregnant Woman's Choices Could Shape A Child's Health

Originally published on Tue September 24, 2013 8:58 am

Does a glass or two of wine during pregnancy really increase the child's health risks? Epigenetics may help scientists figure that out.
Katherine Streeter for NPR

Pregnant women hear a lot about things they should avoid: alcohol, tobacco, chemical exposures, stress. All of those have the potential to affect a developing fetus. And now scientists are beginning to understand why.

One important factor, they say, is something called epigenetics, which involves the mechanisms that turn individual genes on and off in a cell.

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6:04pm

Fri September 13, 2013
Environment

Spy Drones Turning Up New Data About Hurricanes And Weather

Originally published on Fri September 13, 2013 6:57 pm

A Global Hawk unmanned aircraft comes in for a landing at the Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va., on Sept. 7, 2012, after studying Hurricane Leslie. The remotely controlled planes can stay in the air for as long as 28 hours and fly over hurricanes at altitudes of more than 60,000 feet.
NASA

For several weeks now, two unmanned spy planes have been flying over the Atlantic on an unusual mission: gathering intelligence about tropical storms and hurricanes.

The two Global Hawk drones are a central part of NASA's five-year HS3 (Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel) Mission investigating why certain weather patterns become hurricanes, and why some hurricanes grow into monster storms.

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5:40pm

Wed September 4, 2013
Shots - Health News

Multitasking After 60: Video Game Boosts Focus, Mental Agility

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 5:22 pm

Strenuous mental exercise like reading difficult books, solving tricky math problems — or, maybe, playing the right video game — can help keep a healthy brain sharp, research suggests.
Images.com/Corbis

A brain that trains can stay in the fast lane. That's the message of a study showing that playing a brain training video game for a month can rejuvenate the multitasking abilities of people in their 60s, 70s and 80s.

"After training, they improved their multitasking beyond the level of 20-year-olds," says Adam Gazzaley, one of the study's authors and a brain scientist at the University of California, San Francisco.

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4:24pm

Thu August 29, 2013
Shots - Health News

A Single Protein May Help Explain Memory Loss In Old Age

Originally published on Fri August 30, 2013 3:26 pm

The underlying biology of age-related memory glitches — in old mice and old people — is different from what happens with Alzheimer's, recent research suggests.
Anthony Bradshaw iStockphoto.com

If you're finding it harder to remember where you put the car keys, the culprit could be a brain protein with a name that's easy to forget: RbAp48.

A shortage of this protein appears to impair our ability to remember things as we age, researchers report in the current issue of Science Translational Medicine. And boosting levels of RbAP48 in aging brains can reverse memory loss, at least in mice, they say.

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3:07am

Mon August 12, 2013
Shots - Health News

New Muscle Drugs Could Be The Next Big Thing In Sports Doping

Originally published on Mon August 12, 2013 11:03 am

Belgian Blue bulls look like they are made of muscle because they have a mutation in the gene that codes for the protein myostatin. In humans, as in other types of cattle, myostatin normally limits the number of muscle fibers that form before birth and then limits the growth of those fibers later on.
Courtesy of Se-Jin Lee and Alexandra McPherron PNAS

Research intended to help people with muscle-wasting diseases could be about to launch a new era in performance-enhancing drugs.

The research has produced several muscle-building drugs now being tested in people with medical problems, including muscular dystrophy, cancer and kidney disease. The drugs all work by blocking a substance called myostatin that the body normally produces to keep muscles from getting too big.

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6:24pm

Mon August 5, 2013
Shots - Health News

Harsh In Hard Times? A Gene May Influence Mom's Behavior

Originally published on Thu August 8, 2013 7:51 am

A gene known as DRD2 affects the brain's dopamine system and is known to be associated with aggressive behavior.
iStockphoto.com

A gene that affects the brain's dopamine system appears to have influenced mothers' behavior during a recent economic downturn, researchers say.

At the beginning of the recession that began in 2007, mothers with the "sensitive" version of a gene called DRD2 became more likely to strike or scream at their children, the researchers say. Mothers with the other "insensitive" version of the gene didn't change their behavior.

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3:02am

Mon July 15, 2013
Shots - Health News

BPA-Free Plastics Going On Trial In Texas

Originally published on Mon July 15, 2013 10:05 am

PlastiPure helps manufacturers create water bottles and other plastic products that have no estrogenic activity.
PlastiPure

Scientists and lawyers are scheduled to debate the safety of certain "BPA-free" plastics this week in a U.S. District Court in Austin, Texas.

At issue is whether a line of plastic resins marketed by Eastman Chemical contains chemicals that can act like the hormone estrogen, and perhaps cause health problems.

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3:47am

Fri June 28, 2013
Science

Tips For Surviving A Mega-Disaster

Originally published on Fri June 28, 2013 10:39 am

Patong beach in Phuket, Thailand, was destroyed by the tsunami on Dec. 25, 2004. More than 230,000 people died.
Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The U.S. is ready for tornadoes, but not tsunamis.

That's the conclusion of a panel of scientists who spoke this week on "mega-disasters" at the American Geophysical Union's science policy meeting in Washington, D.C.

The nation has done a good job preparing for natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes, which occur frequently but usually produce limited damage and relatively few casualties, the panelists said. But government officials are just beginning to develop plans for events like a major tsunami or a large asteroid hurtling toward a populated area.

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5:32pm

Mon June 17, 2013
Shots - Health News

The Human Voice May Not Spark Pleasure In Children With Autism

Originally published on Tue June 18, 2013 11:31 am

Instructional assistant Jessica Reeder touches her nose to get Jacob Day, 3, who has autism, to focus his attention on her during a therapy session in April 2007.
Rich Pedroncelli AP

The human voice appears to trigger pleasure circuits in the brains of typical kids, but not children with autism, a Stanford University team reports. The finding could explain why many children with autism seem indifferent to spoken words.

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2:55am

Mon June 10, 2013
Shots - Health News

With Epilepsy Treatment, The Goal Is To Keep Kids Seizure-Free

Originally published on Tue June 11, 2013 8:48 am

Barton Holmes, 2, sits with his father, Kevin Holmes, and his mother, Catherine McEaddy Holmes, during an appointment at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Maggie Starbard NPR

Barton Holmes was 16 months old when he had his first seizure. "He was convulsing and his eyes were rolling in the back of his head," his mother, Catherine McEaddy Holmes, says. "His lips were blue. I thought he was dying."

The seizure ended in less than a minute. And by the time an ambulance arrived, Barton was back to his old self. Even so, doctors at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where the family lives, kept him overnight while they tried, without success, to figure out what had caused the seizure.

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6:49pm

Thu May 23, 2013
Science

'Extremely Active' Atlantic Hurricane Season Predicted

Originally published on Thu May 23, 2013 8:23 pm

Hurricane Sandy churns off the Atlantic coast on Oct. 29. NOAA officials are forecasting seven to 11 hurricanes, compared with about six in a typical season.
NASA Getty Images

Unusually warm ocean temperatures and favorable wind patterns mean the Atlantic is likely to see "an active or extremely active" hurricane season this year, say officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The agency expects between seven and 11 hurricanes and as many as 20 named storms during the 2013 season, which runs from June 1 through November.

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8:12pm

Mon May 20, 2013
Environment

Forecasters Had Chance To Warn Moore, Okla., Before Tornado

Originally published on Mon May 20, 2013 9:27 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Joining us now is NPR science correspondent Jon Hamilton who has done a lot of reporting on tornadoes before. And, Jon, talk a bit about the path of this tornado and the destruction that it's brought.

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