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. He is currently focused on the eponymous series, "Joe's Big Idea." Stories in the series explore the minds and motivations of scientists and inventors.

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 forScience 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.

Astronomers think they've discovered a new planet in our solar system.

Now all they have to do is find it.

Nobody's actually seen the new planet. The reason astronomers think it's out there is the strange behavior of some smallish objects in the Kuiper Belt, a collection of celestial objects orbiting in the outer reaches of the solar system.

Three college-age scientists think they know how to solve a huge problem facing medicine. They think they've found a way to overcome antibiotic resistance.

Many of the most powerful antibiotics have lost their efficacy against dangerous bacteria, so finding new antibiotics is a priority.

It's too soon to say for sure if the young researchers are right, but if gumption and enthusiasm count for anything, they stand a fighting chance.

This summer, NPR's science desk is thinking about waves, of all kinds — ocean, gravitational, even stadium waves. But what is a wave, anyway? My editor asked me to puzzle that one out. And, to be honest, I was puzzled.

Is a wave a thing? Or is it the description of a thing? Or is it a mathematical formula that produces a curve that gives you the description of a thing?

NASA has released the first picture of Jupiter taken since the Juno spacecraft went into orbit around the planet on July 4.

The picture was taken on July 10. Juno was 2.7 million miles from Jupiter at the time. The color image shows some of the atmospheric features of the planet, including the giant red spot. You can also see three of Jupiter's moons in the picture: Io, Europa and Ganymede.

In space, there are no road maps. So if you happen to be heading to Jupiter, you'd better bring your own navigation tools.

One really useful tool is an instrument called a star tracker, essentially a camera with a built-in star catalog. It looks at a patch of sky, picks out stars it knows, and uses their coordinates to tell the spacecraft which way it's pointing.

After a five-year journey through the solar system, NASA's $1.1 billion Juno mission is set to begin its orbit around Jupiter on Monday. But for the probe to be captured by the giant planet's gravity and go into the desired orbit, Juno's main engine has to fire for 35 minutes.

In 1975, I was living in San Diego and needed a job. The roommate of a friend of mine was a scientist at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation. He said a colleague of his was looking to hire a lab technician, so I applied and got the job. The scientist I worked for was some guy from a small town in Texas. His name? Jim Allison.

Since 2014, the U.S. Army has gradually been deploying the latest version of a hearing protection system that protects users from loud noises while still letting them hear the world around them.

The system is called TCAPS, or Tactical Communication and Protective System, and about 20,000 of the new TCAPS devices have been deployed in the field so far.

NASA called off today's effort to inflate an expandable module attached to the International Space Station after its first attempt fell flat.

Sir Harold Walter Kroto died on April 30, and I've been thinking a lot about him ever since.

Harry, as he preferred to called, was one of the most remarkable people I've ever known.

We met in 2013 when I was moderating a panel of Nobel laureates at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix. He was obviously smart, having co-discovered new forms of carbon called buckminsterfullerenes — or buckyballs — and sharing a Nobel prize for that work in 1996.

The old phrase "walking on eggshells" actually gives the honest egg a bad rap. Eggs are domes, and domes are among the strongest structures in the natural world. Joe Palca and intern Madeline Sofia demonstrate the strength of the egg in this video installment of "Joe's Big Idea." Watch and marvel as the eggs withstand a gallon of water, bowling balls and ... Joe himself? Take a look to learn about what gives frail eggshells their strength!

Artificial limbs have come a long way since the days of peg legs and hooks for hands. But one thing most of these prosthetics lack is a sense of touch.

Zhenan Bao intends to change that.

A new era for living in space may be about to start.

A prototype habitat is headed to the International Space Station for a two-year trial. What makes the module unique is it's launched folded up, and it's inflated to its full size once in orbit.

On March 10, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee held a news conference at the Good Neighbor Healthcare Center in the part of Houston she represents. The mayor and a bevy of other state and local officials stood behind her.

One of the most puzzling astronomical discoveries of the past decade has just gotten a little bit clearer. Astronomers still don't know what's producing the brief, powerful bursts of radio waves they've been detecting, but for the first time, they've been able to see where one of them is coming from.

Astronomers first detected these so-called fast radio bursts in 2007. Until now, all 16 FRBs that have been reported have been found by combing through archival data.

If this were a Sherlock Holmes story, its title would surely be "The Case of the Disappearing Quasar."

Camera technology has improved dramatically in the past decades, but one thing about even the newest cameras has stayed constant: They all have lenses.

Now, that's changing.

Engineers in Texas are building a camera that can make a sharp image with no lens at all.

Lithium-ion batteries are extremely popular because they are lightweight and pack a lot of power.

What's the universe made of?

It's a question that's been bothering scientists and philosophers for millennia, and has become even more vexing in recent decades, as physicists have become convinced that most of the universe is made of something we can't see or touch or measure.

At least not yet.

Every once in a while a technology comes along that completely alters the way scientists do their work.

It's hard to imagine astronomy without a telescope or high energy physics without an accelerator.

From here on in, it's going to be impossible to imagine biology without CRISPR-Cas9.

Austin Martin, a junior at Brown University, stands in front of an eighth-grade class at Community Preparatory School in Providence, R.I. He's here to test out the website he developed, which he hopes will help junior and senior high school students learn the vocabulary they'll need for their college entrance exams.

He starts the class by connecting his laptop to a projector, and then he veers off the traditional path, away from rote memorization — and toward rap music.

A short song clip plays over speakers: "So rude that your mentality is distorting your reality."

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have found a field of dinosaur footprints on the Isle of Skye. The footprints were made by giant dinosaurs 50 feet long that weighed nearly 20 tons. (This piece initially aired on Dec. 3, 2015, on All Things Considered.)

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

Most people visit the Isle of Skye off the west coast of Scotland for the beautiful scenery or historic castles or maybe the Talisker Distillery.

Not Stephen Brusatte. He goes to Skye for the dinosaurs. And he's pretty jazzed about what he and his team discovered on a recent field trip. "What we found is the biggest dinosaur site that's ever been found in Scotland," he says.

There's a building in Mountain View, Calif., where energy-saving technologies of the future are being tried on for size.

Step inside, and the first thing you notice is the building is dead quiet: no noisy air whooshing through louvers.

That's because the building uses passive cooling instead of traditional air conditioning. Cool ground water passes through a system of small tubes running below the ceiling.

Is there ever a time when cool trumps science?

It's a question that becomes relevant when you consider NASA's plans to put a helicopter drone on an upcoming rover mission to Mars.

This is the time of year that ancient Greeks gave thanks to the goddess Ceres for bringing forth a bountiful harvest. Modern planetary scientists give thanks to a different Ceres — not a goddess, but the largest object in the belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Studying Ceres should help researchers gain a better understanding of how our solar system formed, and they'll soon have unique new data about Ceres from a NASA spacecraft called Dawn, which is spending this Thanksgiving heading for its closest, and final, orbit around the dwarf planet.

The Nobel Prize has a special aura. Winning one instantly certifies you as someone who has reached the pinnacle of science.

But what does it take to win the prize? And what does it do to your life? There are different answers for every scientist, of course. But for Nobel laureate and chemist Harold "Harry" Kroto, some of the answers might surprise you.

"I've always felt that the Nobel Prize gives me nothing as far as science is concerned," Kroto told me when I visited him earlier this year in Tallahassee, Fla.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And another Nobel Prize was awarded this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

Mothers have been warned for years that sleeping with their newborn infant is a bad idea because it increases the risk the baby might die unexpectedly during the night. But now Israeli researchers are reporting that even sleeping in the same room can have negative consequences: not for the child, but for the mother.

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