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.



Thu June 30, 2011

Snow Delay At The Airport? Blame Planes And Clouds

The next time you're delayed by rain or snow at an airport, consider this: it's possible that an airplane actually caused the bad weather.

When aircraft fly though certain clouds, they can trigger a chain of events that causes precipitation for miles around, according to a study in the journal Science.

The idea for the study came in 2007, when a plane full of weather scientists flew through a very odd snowstorm near Denver International Airport.

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Fri June 17, 2011

Blind Eye In The Sky: Weather Satellites Lose Funding

This image from April 27 shows a series of tornadoes forming over Alabama and Mississippi. Captured from a satellite orbiting located at a fixed location above earth, images like these help track trends in weather patterns. Another set of polar-orbiting satellites are useful for long-term forecast predictions.
NASA Earth Observatory

Government officials are forecasting a turbulent future for the nation's weather satellite program.

Federal budget cuts are threatening to leave the U.S. without some critical satellites, the officials say, and that could mean less accurate warnings about events like tornadoes and blizzards. In particular, officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric are concerned about satellites that orbit over the earth's poles rather than remaining over a fixed spot along the equator.

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Fri June 17, 2011

Advanced Tornado Technology Could Reduce Deaths

This tornado touched down near Chickasha, Okla., on May 24. In addition to being tracked by the existing NEXRAD radar system, this storm was also being monitored by an experimental radar system that provided more precise information about the tornado's behavior and path.
Heather Mosher Courtesy National Weather Service/NOAA

Tornadoes have killed at least 530 people in the U.S. this year, the highest death toll since 1950.

But researchers say they are working on new detection and forecasting technologies that could help reduce tornado deaths in the future.

One of those technologies got put to the test on May 24 when a tornado touched down near Chickasha, Okla., and began heading northeast at near freeway speed.

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Thu June 9, 2011
Research News

The Skinny On Smoking: Why Nicotine Curbs Appetite

Originally published on Fri June 10, 2011 4:13 am

Scientists have known for a long time that nicotine decreases appetite among smokers, but they didn't know why. A new study finds that nicotine triggers a response in certain specific brain cells known to regulate appetite.

Scientists say they have finally figured out how smoking helps people keep off extra pounds.

It turns out that nicotine activates a pathway in the brain that suppresses appetite, according to a study in the journal Science. This discovery should lead to better diet drugs, the researchers say.

The finding comes after decades of research showing that smokers tend to be a bit thinner than nonsmokers, and that smokers who quit tend to put on weight.

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Thu June 2, 2011
Children's Health

Looking For Early Signs Of Autism In Brain Waves

An infant and his mother demonstrate electroencephalography, or EEG, technology at Children's Hospital in Boston. The technology could help detect the risk of autism in infants.
Courtesy of Michael Carroll

A technology that monitors electrical activity in the brain could help identify infants who will go on to develop autism, scientists say.

The technology, known as electroencephalography, or EEG, is also providing hints about precisely how autism affects the brain and which therapies are likely to help children with autism spectrum disorders.

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Thu June 2, 2011
NPR Story

EEG Could Help ID Infants With Autism

Scientists say electroencephalography or EEG could help identify infants who are likely to develop autism. The technology detects unusual electrical patterns in the brain that are associated with autism.


Sun May 29, 2011
Research News

Study Of Arsenic-Eating Microbe Finds Doubters

A group of scientists has formally challenged the conclusions of a highly publicized report describing a mysterious microbe that seemed to thrive on a diet of arsenic.

The report, published in December by the journal Science, suggested that a bacterium found in California's Mono Lake was able to substitute arsenic for phosphorous, one of several elements considered essential for life.

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Mon May 23, 2011

Scientists At A Loss To Predict Bad Tornado Seasons

There have been nearly 1,200 tornadoes in the U.S. so far this year. That's nearly twice the usual number of twisters, and it comes as something of a surprise to the scientists who study them. It turns out there is still no good way to predict tornado outbreaks more than a couple of days ahead of time.

Every year, government meteorologists tell the public about how many hurricanes to expect during the Atlantic season. But the government doesn't do that with tornadoes.

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Mon May 23, 2011
NPR Story

Scientists Have A Tough Time Predicting Tornado Outbreaks

So far this year, there have been nearly 1,200 tornadoes in the U.S. That's close to twice the usual number — and it comes as something of a surprise to the scientists who study them.


Fri May 20, 2011

Psst! The Human Brain Is Wired For Gossip

Learning juicy details about someone can change the way you see them — literally, according to a new study.
August Darwell Getty Images

Hearing gossip about people can change the way you see them — literally.

Negative gossip actually alters the way our visual system responds to a particular face, according to a study published online by the journal Science.

The findings suggest that the human brain is wired to respond to gossip, researchers say. And it adds to the evidence that gossip helped early humans get ahead.

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Thu May 12, 2011
Mental Health

After Brain Injuries, Troops Hit The Mental Gym

Frederick Simpson jokes with actor Tony Sirico at a "Wounded Warriors" lunch event at Walter Reed Medical Center last summer. Simpson's leg was shattered by a bullet in Afghanistan and he was knocked unconscious by a grenade blast.
Jan Somma-Hammel Staten Island Advance Photo

Wounded troops often spend months in physical therapy to regain strength in their damaged bodies. Now, the military is trying something similar for military personnel with injured brains.

The Department of Defense is using computerized brain training programs to help personnel with traumatic brain injuries.

The approach is intended for people like 1st Lt. Frederick Simpson.

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Thu May 12, 2011
Research News

Mind Reading: Technology Turns Thought Into Action

A patient participates in a brain-computer interface study. By placing an array of sensors directly on the brain and connecting them to a computer, researchers are able to decode brain signals into meaningful information, including some words.
American Museum of Natural History Science Bulletins

An old technology is providing new insights into the human brain.

The technology is called electrocorticography, or ECoG, and it uses electrodes placed on the surface of the brain to detect electrical signals coming from the brain itself.

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Mon May 9, 2011
Children's Health

Autism May Be Far More Common, Study Suggests

An exhaustive study of autism in one community has found that the disorder is far more common than suggested by earlier research.

The study of 55,000 children in Goyang, South Korea, found that 2.64 percent — one in every 38 children — had an autism spectrum disorder.

"That is two and a half times what the estimated prevalence is in the United States," says Roy Richard Grinker, a professor of anthropology at The George Washington University and one of the study's authors.

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Sat April 30, 2011

Deadly Tornadoes Remain Hard To Predict

Two days before hundreds of deadly tornadoes swept through the South on April 27 and 28, meteorologists were telling people in that part of the country to get ready for powerful twisters.

But those same meteorologists have no idea whether there will be a similar outbreak of tornadoes next week or next month.

"This could be it for the rest of the season or it could continue to be crazy — we absolutely don't know," says Howard Bluestein, a professor of meteorology at the University of Oklahoma.

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Thu April 28, 2011
Shots - Health Blog

Test Flags Babies With Autism, But Also Feeds False Alarms

Pediatricians can use a five-minute questionnaire to identify many 1-year-olds with autism, according to a new study in Journal of Pediatrics.

But the screening test also flags a whole lot of babies who aren't autistic.

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Wed April 20, 2011

Babies' Developing Brains Fed By Placenta, Not Mom

Researchers have found evidence that the placenta plays an important role in fetal brain development during the early stages of pregnancy.

Experiments in mice show that during a key period, the placenta becomes a source of the chemical serotonin, which helps determine the wiring of key circuits in the brain.

The finding, published in the journal Nature, could help explain what leads to brain disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. And it shows that the placenta does a lot more than simply transport nutrients from a mother to her unborn baby.

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Thu April 7, 2011
The Science Of Japan's Nuclear Crisis

In Japan, Shaken Soil Turned Soft After Quake

The earthquake that struck Japan on March 11 will be remembered primarily for the devastating tsunami it created. The quake itself did remarkably little damage to buildings in most areas, thanks to strict construction codes. But in a few places, particularly around Tokyo, buildings didn't fare as well.

These are places built on land reclaimed from the sea. When the earthquake struck, the soil in these areas acted like a liquid, a phenomenon known as liquefaction.

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Thu March 24, 2011

Japan Nuclear Update

NPR's Jon Hamilton reports on the latest developments relating to Japan's damaged nuclear power complex.