Jon Hamilton

Jon Hamilton is a correspondent for NPR's Science Desk. Currently he focuses on neuroscience, health risks, and extreme weather.

Following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Hamilton was part of NPR's team of science reporters and editors who went to Japan to cover the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

Hamilton contributed several pieces to the Science Desk series "The Human Edge," which looked at what makes people the most versatile and powerful species on Earth. His reporting explained how humans use stories, how the highly evolved human brain is made from primitive parts, and what autism reveals about humans social brains.

In 2009, Hamilton received the Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award for his piece on the neuroscience behind treating autism.

Before joining NPR in 1998, Hamilton was a media fellow with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation studying health policy issues. He reported on states that have improved 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 Bachelor of Arts degree 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 During his time at Columbia, Hamilton was awarded the Baker Prize for magazine writing and earned a Sherwood traveling fellowship.

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Shots - Health News
7:21 am
Wed December 10, 2014

A Crowd Of Scientists Finds A Better Way To Predict Seizures

Mathematician Phillip Adkins (left) and Drew Abbot, a software engineer at AiLive. They were members of the winning team.
Courtesy of Phillip Adkins

Originally published on Thu December 11, 2014 6:12 am

An online contest for data scientists has produced a great leap forward in efforts to predict when someone with epilepsy is going to have a seizure. The winning team used data on electrical activity in the brain to develop an algorithm that predicted seizures 82 percent of the time.

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Shots - Health News
3:08 am
Mon December 8, 2014

Medicine's Subtle Art Gives A Man The Chance To Breathe Again

Bob Smithson, 79, can now hold his head upright and breathe on his own, thanks to a medication for myasthenia gravis.
M. Scott Brauer for NPR

Originally published on Tue December 9, 2014 2:57 pm

Bob Smithson had been in the critical care unit at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston for more than a week. He had a rare neuromuscular disease, and his 78-year-old body was being kept alive by tubes that delivered air to his lungs and food to his stomach.

Then Bob's wife, Pat, got some really disturbing news. The hospital's medical staff wanted Bob to have a tracheostomy, a surgical procedure that would carve a hole in his neck and allow doctors to keep him on a breathing machine indefinitely.

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Shots - Health News
2:32 pm
Wed December 3, 2014

A Drug Might Heal Spinal Injuries By Sparking Nerve Growth

Originally published on Thu December 4, 2014 8:34 am

A scientist who chose to ignore the mainstream nearly 30 years ago has found a new way to regenerate nerves in the spinal cord, at least in animals. A drug that Jerry Silver, a professor of neuroscience at Case Western Reserve University, helped design a drug that has allowed paralyzed rats to regain bladder function and even walk.

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Shots - Health News
2:19 am
Fri November 21, 2014

Blind From Birth, But Able To Use Sound To 'See' Faces

Originally published on Thu December 4, 2014 12:04 pm

A brain area that recognizes faces remains functional even in people who have been blind since birth, researchers say. The finding, presented at the Society for Neuroscience meeting this week, suggests that facial recognition is so important that evolution has hardwired it into the human brain.

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Shots - Health News
7:56 am
Thu November 20, 2014

Sleep's Link To Learning And Memory Traced To Brain Chemistry

Originally published on Thu November 20, 2014 3:23 pm

Almost a century after the discovery that sleep helps us remember things, scientists are beginning to understand why.

During sleep, the brain produces chemicals that are important to memory and relives events we want to remember, scientists reported this week at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington D.C.

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Shots - Health News
5:08 pm
Mon November 17, 2014

Toxic Tau Of Alzheimer's May Offer A Path To Treatment

A tangle of protein (green) in this scanning electron micrograph of a brain cell of an Alzheimer's patient lies within the cytoplasm (blue) of the cell. The tangle consists of clumps of a toxic form of tau.
Thomas J. Deerinck Corbis

Originally published on Wed November 19, 2014 7:08 am

After years of setbacks, Alzheimer's researchers are sounding optimistic again. The reason: a brain protein called tau.

At this year's Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, D.C., there are more than 100 papers on tau, which is responsible for the tangles that form in the brains of people with Alzheimer's. In the past, tau has received less attention than another protein called amyloid beta, which causes the sticky plaques associated with Alzheimer's.

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Goats and Soda
1:06 am
Mon November 10, 2014

Ebola Today Could Mean Illiteracy Tomorrow In West Africa

Mariama and Fomba Kanneh play in an open space in Barkedu, Liberia. With schools closed across the country, many kids spend their time playing outside every day.
Tommy Trenchard for NPR

Originally published on Mon November 10, 2014 8:05 am

Ebola is threatening to reverse years of educational progress in West Africa. The virus has kept school closed for months in a part of the world where literacy rates are low and school systems are only now recovering from years of civil war.

In Liberia, many children have been put to work while schools are closed, and Ebola is hurting the economy, says Laurent Duvillier, a communication specialist at UNICEF. The fear now, he says, is that many of these children will never return to school.

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Goats and Soda
2:39 am
Tue October 28, 2014

An Ebola Strategy Brings Good News To One Liberian Town

The nursing staff get a break at the Ebola care center run by Doctors Without Borders in Foya, Liberia. The center has helped stop the spread of the virus.
Michealeen Doucleff NPR

Originally published on Thu October 30, 2014 1:49 pm

In one corner of Liberia, a community has come together to change the course of the deadly epidemic. New cases have been brought to a standstill. This success shows that it's going to take more than extra beds at a ward to stop Ebola.

When Doctors Without Borders arrived in the northern district of Foya in early August, Ebola was out of control. Foya was the first area in Liberia to report cases, and the community has been hit hard.

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Goats and Soda
2:47 am
Thu October 23, 2014

Ebola Is Keeping Kids From Getting Vaccinated In Liberia

A mom at the Community Clinic in Louisiana Township, about 15 miles from Monrovia, says all of her children have been vaccinated.
Jon Hamilton NPR

Originally published on Mon November 10, 2014 8:12 am

When Ebola began killing people in the Monrovia suburb of Clara Town several months ago, some residents blamed vaccines.

One vaccinator in the town says mothers didn't want her near their babies.

"They had a notion that when the people come to the hospital, we would inject them and kill them," says vaccinator Che Che Richardson at the Clara Town Health Center, "because it was the hospital giving the people Ebola."

Rumors like that, combined with the closing of many health facilities, have caused childhood vaccination rates to plummet in Liberia.

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Goats and Soda
3:27 pm
Tue October 21, 2014

For Healthy Liberians, Life Continues — With Some Adjustments

Angie Gardea depends on her job at a hair salon to put food on the table. But because of the Ebola outbreak, business has been slow. Customers are afraid to come in.
Michaeleen Doucleff NPR

Originally published on Wed October 22, 2014 5:01 am

Ebola has killed more than 1,300 people in Liberia's capital of Monrovia. But for the million-plus residents who aren't sick, life goes on even as their city is reshaped by death.

On market day, the downtown is teeming with shoppers and merchants and people just hanging out. It almost looks like commerce as usual until you notice all the "Ebola buckets," elevated plastic containers with spigots that deliver a chlorine solution for hand-washing.

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Goats and Soda
2:23 am
Mon October 20, 2014

Ebola In Church: A Reverend's Quarantine Spreads The Word

The Rev. Herman Browne voluntarily quarantined himself for 21 days after his wife's friend tested positive for Ebola. On Sunday, he returned to his church, Trinity Cathedral, to preach to his congregation about Ebola prevention.
Jon Hamilton NPR

Originally published on Mon October 20, 2014 7:26 am

Night clubs have shut their doors. Soccer leagues have been suspended. And a strict curfew is keeping the streets empty at night.

But there's one place in Monrovia where people continue to gather despite the threat of Ebola: Sunday church service.

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Shots - Health News
3:06 pm
Tue September 30, 2014

BRAIN Initiative Bets on Wearable Scanners, Laser-Controlled Cells

Andrew Ostrovsky iStockphoto

Originally published on Thu October 2, 2014 9:46 am

Eighteen months after its launch, President Obama's plan to explore the mysteries of the human brain is finally taking shape. During separate events Tuesday, the White House and National Institutes of Health offered details about which projects are being funded and why.

At a morning press conference, NIH officials announced $46 million in grant awards to more than 100 investigators. Most of the researchers are working on tools that can "transform how we study the brain," said NIH Director Francis Collins.

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Shots - Health News
1:26 am
Mon September 29, 2014

A Doctor Unlocks Mysteries Of The Brain By Talking And Watching

Dr. Allan Ropper speaks with residents and fellows as they do rounds at the neuroscience intensive care unit at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
M. Scott Brauer for NPR

Originally published on Mon September 29, 2014 1:23 pm

The heavyset man with a bandage on his throat is having trouble repeating a phrase. "No ifs ..." he says to the medical students and doctors around his bed at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

"Can I hear you say no ifs, ands or buts?" says Dr. Allan Ropper, the Harvard neurologist in charge. The patient tries again. "No ifs, buts, ands or," he says.

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Shots - Health News
1:34 am
Tue September 23, 2014

Death Cuts Short The Life Of An Alzheimer's Research Volunteer

Justin McCowan poses for a portrait outside of his house in Santa Monica, Calif., on Aug. 14.
Benjamin B. Morris for NPR

Originally published on Mon September 29, 2014 2:45 pm

If you're a regular Shots reader or Morning Edition listener, you may remember a recent story about Justin McCowan, a man with Down syndrome who wanted to help researchers find a treatment for Alzheimer's disease. McCowan died in his sleep on Thursday at his home in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 40.

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Cities Project
4:25 pm
Thu September 18, 2014

A Coastal Paradise Confronts Its Watery Future

Half the land in the city of Satellite Beach is only 6 feet above the waterline.
Jon Hamilton NPR

Originally published on Thu September 18, 2014 4:59 pm

Dan Reiter, 37, is a long-board surfer and contractor who used to live in Tampa, Fla. Then he discovered the surf breaks along a stretch of coast south of Cape Canaveral. "It's one of the most beautiful places in the world to live and surf and raise your kids," says Reiter, 37, as we watch head-high waves roll into Hightower Beach.

But there's trouble in this coastal paradise. It's on a low-lying barrier island that's getting lower as sea level rises. So the cities here are looking for ways to keep the water at bay or retreat from it.

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Shots - Health News
1:25 am
Mon August 25, 2014

People With Down Syndrome Are Pioneers In Alzheimer's Research

Justin McCowan, 39, has Down syndrome and lives at home with his parents in Santa Monica, Calif.
Benjamin B. Morris for NPR

Originally published on Tue August 26, 2014 6:53 am

When researchers at the University of California, San Diego wanted to study an experimental Alzheimer's drug last year, they sought help from an unlikely group: people with Down syndrome.

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NPR Ed
1:43 am
Wed August 6, 2014

Scientists Say Child's Play Helps Build A Better Brain

Originally published on Thu August 14, 2014 4:40 pm

This week, NPR Ed is focusing on questions about why people play and how play relates to learning.

When it comes to brain development, time in the classroom may be less important than time on the playground.

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Shots - Health News
1:41 pm
Mon August 4, 2014

Oxytocin Isn't Lacking In Children With Autism, Researchers Say

The hormone oxytocin affects social functioning, but researchers say it isn't commonly lacking in children with autism.
danchooalex/iStockphoto

Originally published on Wed August 6, 2014 10:22 am

Scratch one more simple explanation for autism off the list. This time it's the idea that children with autism have low levels of oxytocin, often called the "love hormone" because it can make people more trusting and social.

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Shots - Health News
1:27 am
Thu July 10, 2014

Bingeing On Bad News Can Fuel Daily Stress

Katherine Streeter for NPR

Originally published on Thu July 10, 2014 1:34 pm

If you're feeling stressed these days, the news media may be partly to blame.

At least that's the suggestion of a national survey conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.

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Shots - Health News
2:59 pm
Mon June 2, 2014

Bursts Of Light Create Memories, Then Take Them Away

Katherine Streeter for NPR

Originally published on Tue June 3, 2014 2:38 pm

You can't just open up a living brain and see the memories inside.

So Roberto Malinow, a brain scientist at the University of California, San Diego, has spent years trying to find other ways to understand how memories are made and lost. The research — right now being done in rats – should lead to a better understanding of human memory problems ranging from Alzheimer's to post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Shots - Health News
1:33 am
Mon June 2, 2014

Pregnancy Hormone May Reduce Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms

A collage of family photos of Melissa Sherak Glasser.
Mark Turner for NPR

Originally published on Tue June 3, 2014 9:30 am

For decades, women with multiple sclerosis have noticed that they tend to do better while they are pregnant. That has led to an experimental drug for the disease that's based on a hormone associated with pregnancy.

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Shots - Health News
12:08 am
Tue May 27, 2014

Military Plans To Test Brain Implants To Fight Mental Disorders

In epilepsy, the normal behavior of brain neurons is disturbed. The drug valproic acid appears to help the brain replenish a key chemical, preventing seizures.
David Mack/Science Source

Originally published on Tue May 27, 2014 11:35 am

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is launching a $70 million program to help military personnel with psychiatric disorders using electronic devices implanted in the brain.

The goal of the five-year program is to develop new ways of treating problems including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, all of which are common among service members who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan.

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Science
2:21 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

NOAA Predicts Relatively Quiet Atlantic Hurricane Season

Originally published on Thu May 22, 2014 4:46 pm

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Transcript

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Health
1:37 pm
Thu May 8, 2014

Anti-Aging Hormone Could Make You Smarter

Klotho (right) is one of the three Greek Fates depicted in this Flemish tapestry at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Wikimedia Commons

Originally published on Thu May 8, 2014 5:49 pm

A hormone associated with longevity also appears to make people's brains work better.

The finding in Cell Reports could someday lead to drugs that improve memory and learning, researchers say.

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Science
2:25 pm
Mon May 5, 2014

Max Planck Goes To Florida, Invites Brain Scientists To Join

Originally published on Mon May 5, 2014 4:35 pm

Germany's famous Max Planck Society has opened a brain research institute in Jupiter, Fla. It's another move in the international competition to attract the best brain researchers.

Shots - Health News
2:36 pm
Wed April 23, 2014

Education May Help Insulate The Brain Against Traumatic Injury

Proust and algebra may not sound like brain protection, but higher levels of education correlate with cognitive reserve.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Thu April 24, 2014 5:24 am

A little education goes a long way toward ensuring you'll recover from a serious traumatic brain injury. In fact, people with lots of education are seven times more likely than high school dropouts to have no measurable disability a year later.

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Shots - Health News
2:41 pm
Fri April 18, 2014

One Scientist's Quest To Vanquish Epileptic Seizures

The dream of epilepsy research, says neurobiologist Ivan Soltesz, is to stop seizures by manipulating only some brain cells, not all.
Steve Zylius UC Irvine Communications

Originally published on Fri April 18, 2014 5:13 pm

In the early 1990s, a young brain researcher named Ivan Soltesz heard a story that would shape his career.

His adviser told him about a school for children whose epileptic seizures were so severe and frequent that they had to wear helmets to prevent head injuries. The only exception to the helmet rule was for students who received an award.

"The big deal for them is that they can take the helmet off while they're walking across the stage," Soltesz says. "And that thing struck me as just wrong."

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Shots - Health News
4:00 pm
Mon April 14, 2014

Gene Linked To Alzheimer's Poses A Special Threat To Women

Women make up nearly two-thirds of the people in the U.S. diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Mon April 14, 2014 5:35 pm

A gene associated with Alzheimer's disease appears especially dangerous to women and may be one reason that more women than men are diagnosed with the disease.

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Shots - Health News
3:25 pm
Tue April 8, 2014

The Forgotten Childhood: Why Early Memories Fade

Francis Csedrik remembers details of being bonked hard on the head when he was 4, and having to go to the emergency room.
Meg Vogel NPR

Originally published on Wed April 9, 2014 4:13 am

Francis Csedrik, who is 8 and lives in Washington, D.C., remembers a lot of events from when he was 4 or just a bit younger. There was the time he fell "headfirst on a marble floor" and got a concussion, the day someone stole the family car ("my dad had to chase it down the block"), or the morning he found a black bat (the furry kind) in the house.

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Shots - Health News
1:00 pm
Wed April 2, 2014

Map Of The Developing Human Brain Shows Where Problems Begin

Images of the developing fetal brain show connections among brain regions.
Allen Institute for Brain Science; Bruce Fischl, Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital

Originally published on Tue May 27, 2014 12:31 pm

A high-resolution map of the human brain in utero is providing hints about the origins of brain disorders including schizophrenia and autism.

The map shows where genes are turned on and off throughout the entire brain at about the midpoint of pregnancy, a time when critical structures are taking shape, researchers reported Wednesday in the journal Nature.

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