NPR: Joe Palca

Joe Palca is a science correspondent for NPR. Since joining NPR in 1992, Palca has covered a range of science topics — everything from biomedical research to astronomy. In addition to his science reporting, Palca occasionally fills in as guest host on Talk of the Nation Science Friday.

Palca began his journalism career in television in 1982, working as a health producer for the CBS affiliate in Washington, DC. In 1986, he left television for a seven-year stint as a print journalist, first as the Washington news editor for Nature, and then as a senior correspondent for Science Magazine.

In October 2009, Palca took a six-month leave from NPR to become science writer in residence at the Huntington Library and The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Palca has won numerous awards, including the National Academies Communications Award, the Science-in-Society Award of the National Association of Science Writers, the American Chemical Society James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public, the American Association for the Advancement of Science Journalism Prize, and the Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Writing.

With Flora Lichtman, Palca is the co-author of Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us (Wiley, 2011).

He comes to journalism from a science background, having received a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California at Santa Cruz where he worked on human sleep physiology.

Palca lives in Washington, D.C, with his wife and two sons.

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8:35am

Sat July 26, 2014
Space

Close Encounters Of The Radio Kind? Mystery Bursts Baffle Astronomers

Originally published on Mon July 28, 2014 8:50 am

Scientists say a brief burst of radio activity has been detected at the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. This new report resembles previous activity detected in Australia, which has scientist debating possible causes, including solar flares, blitzars, or something even more mysterious.
Brian Negin iStockphoto

Astronomers have a mystery on their hands. Two large radio telescopes, on opposite sides of the planet, have detected very brief, very powerful bursts of radio waves.

Right now, astronomers have no idea what's causing these bursts or where they're coming from. And nothing has been ruled out at the moment — not even the kind of outrageous claims you'd expect to see in tabloid headlines.

Australian Recordings Inspire Curiosity And Doubt

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4:45am

Tue July 22, 2014
Space

Rosetta Spacecraft Readies For Rendezvous With Comet

Originally published on Mon July 28, 2014 8:58 am

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

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

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4:27pm

Thu July 17, 2014
Science

To Make A Spacecraft That Folds And Unfolds, Try Origami

Originally published on Thu July 17, 2014 8:40 pm

Scientists and engineers at NASA are using origami techniques to help solve a fundamental dilemma facing spacecraft designers: How do you take a big object, pack it into a small container for rocket launch, and then unpack it again once it arrives in space — making sure nothing breaks in the process.

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4:57pm

Fri June 27, 2014
Science

If They Want To Make Anything, Proteins Must Know How To Fold

Originally published on Mon June 30, 2014 10:46 am

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Events unfold. Plots unfold. And this summer, NPR science correspondent Joe Palca has been telling us how science unfolds. It's series we're creatively calling Unfolding Science.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEME SONG)

BLOCK: Today, Joe tells us about large biological molecules called proteins that have to fold and unfold properly to keep us alive.

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4:20pm

Thu June 26, 2014
Shots - Health News

A CRISPR Way To Fix Faulty Genes

Originally published on Mon June 30, 2014 7:47 am

The CRISPR enzyme (green and red) binds to a stretch of double-stranded DNA (purple and red), preparing to snip out the faulty part.
Illustration courtesy of Jennifer Doudna/UC Berkeley

Scientists from many areas of biology are flocking to a technique that allows them to work inside cells, making changes in specific genes far faster — and for far less money — than ever before.

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5:22am

Sat May 31, 2014
Shots - Health News

Phone App Might Predict Manic Episodes In Bipolar Disorder

Originally published on Mon June 2, 2014 8:31 am

Manic, sad, up, down. Your voice may reveal mood shifts.
iStockphoto

There are smartphone apps for monitoring your diet, your drugs, even your heart. And now a Michigan psychiatrist is developing an app he hopes doctors will someday use to predict when a manic episode is imminent in patients with bipolar disorder.

People with the disorder alternate between crushing depression and wild manic episodes that come with the dangerous mix of uncontrollable energy and impaired judgment.

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5:00pm

Sun May 18, 2014
Humans

The First American Teenager, Millennia-Old And Underwater

Originally published on Sun May 18, 2014 6:28 pm

Transcript

TESS VIGELAND, HOST:

From the studios of NPR West in Culver City, California it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'M Tess Vigeland. Let us contemplate the American teenage girl, perhaps the very first one. Apparently, there's been some scientific debate about who she is and whether she hails from the same gene sequence as what we think of as the first Americans, American Indians. And when I say gene sequence, we're not talking about Skinnies from Urban Outfitters. NPR's science correspondent Joe Palca has the story of a very old American teenage identity crisis.

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3:37am

Tue May 6, 2014
Shots - Health News

Chemist Turns Software Developer After Son's Cancer Diagnosis

Originally published on Tue May 13, 2014 1:34 pm

Noah Shaw, now 5, shows off his Texas roots at a recent birthday party.
Courtesy of Bryan Shaw

A scientist's ambitious plan to create an early detection system for eye cancer using people's home cameras is coming along.

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4:16pm

Thu March 6, 2014
Science

The Scientist Who Makes Stars On Earth

Originally published on Wed June 4, 2014 9:34 am

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

On the outskirts of Albuquerque, New Mexico, scientists are doing something astonishing. They're creating a white dwarf star - not a whole star but enough of one to study in minute detail. As part of his series, "Joe's Big Idea," NPR's Joe Palca introduces us to the astronomer behind this exotic project and explains why he's determined to learn all he can about this interesting stellar object.

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4:35pm

Wed March 5, 2014
Shots - Health News

To Clean Drinking Water, All You Need Is A Stick

Originally published on Tue May 27, 2014 3:25 pm

Current water-filtering technology is costly, but MIT scientists are testing a simpler and cheaper method that uses wood from white pine trees.
Wikimedia Commons

Removing all the dangerous bacteria from drinking water would have enormous health benefits for people around the world.

The technologies exist for doing that, but there's a problem: cost.

Now a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology thinks he's on to a much less expensive way to clean up water.

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2:33pm

Mon February 3, 2014
Shots - Health News

Inexpensive Aquarium Bubbler Saves Preemies' Lives

A nurse attaches the low-cost breathing machine (far left) to an infant at The Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi.
Jocelyn Brown Rice University

There's only one thing better than having a good idea, and that's having a good idea that really works.

Earlier this year, I reported on some students at Rice University who had designed a low-cost medical device to help premature infants breathe.

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5:04am

Fri January 31, 2014
Research News

Scientists Come Close To Finding True Magnetic Monopole

Originally published on Mon June 30, 2014 10:55 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Scientists may have filled in a gap in one the fundamental theories of physics. We've always been told that magnets have two poles, north and south. But theory suggests there should be something called a magnetic monopole, a magnet that has either a north pole or a south pole but not both of them. So far no one has found this elusive magnetic monopole.

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8:52am

Sat January 4, 2014
Shots - Health News

Saving Babies' Lives Starts With Aquarium Pumps And Ingenuity

Originally published on Tue April 22, 2014 9:59 am

Neonatal nurse Florence Mwenifumbo monitors a newborn receiving bubble CPAP treatment in Blantyre, Malawi. The device was developed by students at Rice University in Houston.
Rice 360/Rice University

Good ideas don't only come from experts. An innovative engineering program in Texas has been proving that college undergraduates can tackle — and solve — vexing health challenges in developing countries.

Two engineers at Rice University in Houston are tapping the potential of bright young minds to change the world.

Big Problems, Simple Solutions

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3:05am

Thu November 28, 2013
Shots - Health News

'The Coolest Thing Ever': How A Robotic Arm Changed 4 Lives

Originally published on Tue April 22, 2014 10:00 am

Dee Faught tests a robotic arm installed on his wheelchair in September. Commercially produced robotic arms can cost tens of thousands of dollars, but three Rice engineering students built one for Dee for about $800.
Eric Kayne for NPR

Three engineering undergrads at Rice University gave a teenager with a rare genetic disease something he'd always wished for: the ability to turn off the light in his room.

It may not seem like much, but for 17-year-old Dee Faught, it represents a new kind of independence.

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1:30pm

Wed October 9, 2013
The Two-Way

Jupiter Or Bust, But First A Quick Fly-By Of Home

NASA's flight path for its Juno space probe, which is expected to buzz Earth at 3:21 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
NASA

After traveling for more than two years and some 1 billion miles, NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter is back where it started. Almost. At 3:21 p.m. ET Wednesday, the Juno space probe will be 347 miles away from Earth, just above the southern tip of Africa.

(As an aside, at around 11:30 a.m. ET, it was more than 90,000 miles away.)

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3:03am

Fri September 13, 2013
Shots - Health News

Treating Kids' Cancer With Science And A Pocket Full Of Hope

Originally published on Tue April 22, 2014 10:02 am

Dr. Jim Olson meets with Carver Faull at Seattle Children's Hospital in August. Carver, now 12, had surgery to remove a brain tumor in 2012.
Matthew Ryan Williams for NPR

Try to imagine someone who is supremely calm while at the same time bursting with energy, and you've got a pretty good idea of what Jim Olson is like.

He's a cancer researcher, physician, cyclist, kayaker and cook, not always in that order. He approaches each activity with incredible passion.

But to really understand Olson, you have to watch him in action with patients.

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3:45am

Thu September 12, 2013
Shots - Health News

Why Painting Tumors Could Make Brain Surgeons Better

Originally published on Thu September 12, 2013 6:58 am

Physician Jim Olson cares for children with brain cancer in Seattle. His laboratory studies the gene expression programs controlling neural differentiation, brain tumor genesis and neurodegenerative diseases.
Courtesy of Susie Fitzhugh/Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Perhaps one of the most uncomfortable things a doctor has to tell patients is that their medical problems are iatrogenic. What that means is they were caused by a doctor in the course of the treatment.

Sometime these iatrogenic injuries are accidental. But sometimes, because of the limits of medical technology, they can be inevitable. Now, a medical researcher in Seattle thinks he has a way to eliminate some of the inevitable ones.

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3:38pm

Thu September 5, 2013
Joe's Big Idea

Coronal Holes: The (Rarely Round) Gaps In The Sun's Atmosphere

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 5:21 pm

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this picture of the sun on June 18. The dark blue area in the upper left quadrant of the sun is a huge coronal hole more than 400,000 miles across. Coronal holes are areas of the sun's outermost atmospheric layer — the corona — where the magnetic field opens up and solar material quickly flows out.
NASA/SDO

There's a hole in the sun's corona. But don't worry — that happens from time to time.

"A coronal hole is just a big, dark blotch that we see on the sun in our images," says Dean Pesnell, project scientist for NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. "We can only see them from space, because when we look at them [through] a regular telescope, they don't appear."

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3:45pm

Wed September 4, 2013
Shots - Health News

The Inside Story On The Fear Of Holes

Originally published on Thu September 5, 2013 9:25 am

Beautiful or creepy? A recent survey found that an image of a lotus seed head makes about 15 percent of people uncomfortable or even repulsed.
tanakawho Flickr.com

Trypophobia may be moving out of the urban dictionary and into the scientific literature.

A recent study in the peer-review journal Psychological Science takes a first crack at explaining why some people may suffer from a fear of holes.

Trypophobia may be hard to find in textbooks and diagnostic manuals, but a brief Web search will show that plenty of people appear to have it.

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4:31pm

Wed August 7, 2013
Space

Black Holes One Of Space's Great Paradoxes

Originally published on Wed August 7, 2013 5:48 pm

Late summer tends to be a slow month for news. But at All Things Considered, we put on a two hour program, no matter what. So — without a trace of irony — one of our science correspondents offered to help fill some holes in the show with a series of stories about holes. In this edition: Black holes.

3:22am

Mon August 5, 2013
Space

A Year On Mars: What's Curiosity Been Up To?

Originally published on Mon August 5, 2013 10:55 am

This self-portrait of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager during the 177th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars, plus three exposures taken during Sol 270 to update the appearance of part of the ground beside the rover.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Imagine winning the World Series, the lottery and a Nobel Prize all in one day. That's pretty much how scientists and engineers in mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., felt one year ago when the 1 ton, six-wheeled rover named Curiosity landed safely on Mars.

Within minutes, the rover began sending pictures back to Earth. In the past year it has sent back a mountain of data and pictures that scientists are sorting through, trying to get a better understanding of the early climate on Mars.

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5:43pm

Thu July 25, 2013
Science

If You Want A Doughnut Hole, Don't Ask A Mathematician

Originally published on Tue August 27, 2013 11:27 am

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

A program such as ours is timed to the exact second, and occasionally, there are small holes when our mix of news and features doesn't quite fill up our two-hour slot.

So NPR's Joe Palca offered to come to our rescue with some short math and sciencey hole-filling stories, stories about what else - holes.

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3:01am

Wed July 17, 2013
Joe's Big Idea

All Charged Up: Engineers Create A Battery Made Of Wood

Originally published on Wed July 17, 2013 5:08 am

Wood fibers are coated with carbon nanotubes and then packed into small disks of metal. The sodium ions moving around in the wood fibers create an electric current.
Heather Rousseau NPR

The big idea behind Joe's Big Idea is to report on interesting inventions and inventors. When I saw the headline "An Environmentally Friendly Battery Made From Wood," on a press release recently, I figured it fit the bill, so went to investigate.

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3:01am

Mon June 24, 2013
Joe's Big Idea

For Sharpest Views, Scope The Sky With Quick-Change Mirrors

Originally published on Mon June 24, 2013 11:55 am

Before And After: These near-infrared images of Uranus show the planet as seen without adaptive optics (left) and with the technology turned on (right).
Courtesy of Heidi B. Hammel and Imke de Pater

It used to be that if astronomers wanted to get rid of the blurring effects of the atmosphere, they had to put their telescopes in space. But a technology called adaptive optics has changed all that.

Adaptive optics systems use computers to analyze the light coming from a star, and then compensate for changes wrought by the atmosphere, using mirrors that can change their shapes up to 1,000 times per second. The result: To anyone on Earth peering through the telescope, the star looks like the single point of light it really is.

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8:35am

Sat June 8, 2013
The Salt

Asparagus Helps Lower Blood Pressure (At Least In Rats)

In a recent study, rats that munched on asparagus saw their blood pressure drop.
Muffet Flicker

Here's another reason to eat asparagus, in case you were looking for one.

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5:17pm

Mon May 27, 2013
The Two-Way

Beneath A Glacier's White, Researchers See Green

Originally published on Wed May 29, 2013 8:52 am

The small patch in the middle of the image is Aulacomnium turgidum, a type of bryophyte plant. Researchers in the Canadian Arctic say they are surprised the bryophytes were still green, even after being covered by ice.
Courtesy of Caroline La Farge

In the news business, an evergreen is a story that doesn't have to run on a particular day, but can stay fresh for a long time.

This is an evergreen story about an evergreen. In particular, a group of plants called bryophytes. Turns out they may be evergreen quite a bit longer than most people thought.

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6:03pm

Thu May 23, 2013
Shots - Health News

The Weight Of A Med Student's Subconscious Bias

More than a third of medical students in a North Carolina study had a bias against overweight people.
iStockphoto.com

Quite a few medical school students have something against obese people, and most of those who have such a bias are unaware of it.

That's the conclusion of study appearing in the July issue of Academic Medicine. It was conducted at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. The study's author says the subconscious judgments could affect how patients are treated.

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2:46pm

Fri May 10, 2013
Environment

Atop A Hawaiian Mountain, A Constant Sniff For Carbon Dioxide

Originally published on Tue May 14, 2013 1:22 pm

Researchers use the 120-foot tower atop Mauna Loa in Hawaii to collect air samples and measure the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Mauna Kea looms in the distance.
Forrest M. Mims III forrestmims.org

Climate scientists have a good reason to want to get away from it all. To get an accurate picture of the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere, you have to find places where the numbers won't be distorted by cities or factories or even lots of vegetation that can have a major local impact on CO2 concentrations.

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12:04pm

Tue May 7, 2013
The Salt

Wake Up And Smell The Tuna? Sunrise At Honolulu's Fish Auction

Originally published on Wed May 8, 2013 9:48 am

Among the 50,000 pounds of fish at the Honolulu auction last Friday was this opah, or moonfish, Lampris regius.
Joe Palca NPR

If you are up at 5 in the morning in Honolulu and are wondering what to do, I have a suggestion: Head over to Pier 38 and watch the Honolulu Fish Auction. It's quite a scene.

Getting up at 5 may seem a bit extreme, but for recent arrivals to Hawaii from the East Coast of the mainland — as I was last Friday — the six-hour time difference makes waking up early easy, if not inevitable.

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2:59am

Tue May 7, 2013
Joe's Big Idea

Envisioning The Future With Cori Lathan

Originally published on Tue May 7, 2013 11:04 am

AnthroTronix Founder and CEO Corinna Lathan, at the company's offices in Silver Spring, Md.
Courtesy of AnthroTronix, Inc.

Computers were created to be useful tools, but all too often it's still a chore to get technology to do our bidding.

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