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
1:57 am
Mon July 27, 2015

A Scientist Deploys Light And Sound To Reveal The Brain

A nanosecond pulsed laser beam starts the photoacoustic imaging process.
Geoff Story/Courtesy of Washington University in St. Louis

Originally published on Mon July 27, 2015 12:29 pm

Lihong Wang creates the sort of medical technology you'd expect to find on the starship Enterprise.

Wang, a professor of biomedical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, has already helped develop instruments that can detect individual cancer cells in the bloodstream and oxygen consumption deep within the body. He has also created a camera that shoots at 100 billion frames a second, fast enough to freeze an object traveling at the speed of light.

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Shots - Health News
1:47 am
Thu July 23, 2015

Younger Adults With Alzheimer's Are Key To Drug Search

Giedre (left) and Tal Cohen in March 2013, while Giedre was still healthy. Since then, she's begun having symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. In Giedre's case, the illness is tied to a rare genetic mutation she inherited.
Courtesy of Tal Cohen

Originally published on Thu July 23, 2015 2:42 pm

The face of Alzheimer's isn't always old. Sometimes it belongs to someone like Giedre Cohen, who is 37, yet struggles to remember her own name.

Until about a year ago, Giedre was a "young, healthy, beautiful" woman just starting her life, says her husband, Tal Cohen, a real estate developer in Los Angeles. Now, he says, "her mind is slowly wasting away."

People like Giedre have a rare gene mutation that causes symptoms of Alzheimer's to appear before they turn 60.

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Shots - Health News
2:54 pm
Tue July 21, 2015

Women's Brains Appear More Vulnerable To Alzheimer's Than Men's

Women with mild cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to Alzheimer's, tend to decline faster than men.
Lizzie Roberts Getty Images/Ikon Images

Originally published on Thu July 23, 2015 4:05 am

There's new evidence suggesting that women's brains are especially vulnerable to Alzheimer's disease and other problems with memory and thinking.

Women with mild cognitive impairment, which can lead to Alzheimer's, tend to decline faster than men, researchers reported this week at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Washington, D.C.

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Shots - Health News
7:38 am
Sun July 19, 2015

Alzheimer's Drugs In The Works Might Treat Other Diseases, Too

In this colorized image of a brain cell from a person with Alzheimer's, the red tangle in the yellow cell body is a toxic tangle of misfolded "tau" proteins, adjacent to the cell's green nucleus.
Thomas Deerinck/NCMIR Science Source

Originally published on Tue July 21, 2015 3:31 pm

Efforts to find a treatment for Alzheimer's disease have been disappointing so far. But there's a new generation of drugs in the works that researchers think might help not only Alzheimer's patients, but also people with Parkinson's disease and other brain disorders.

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Shots - Health News
10:04 am
Thu July 16, 2015

Screaming For Science: The Secrets Of Crying Babies And Car Alarms

Originally published on Fri July 17, 2015 3:08 pm

It's almost impossible to ignore a screaming baby. (Click here if you doubt that.) And now scientists think they know why.

"Screams occupy their own little patch of the soundscape that doesn't seem to be used for other things," says David Poeppel, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at New York University and director of the Department of Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute in Frankfurt.

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Shots - Health News
12:09 pm
Wed July 8, 2015

Genetic Tweaks Are Restoring Hearing In Animals, Raising Hopes For People

Originally published on Fri July 10, 2015 6:02 am

Researchers have taken another step toward reversing deafness using gene therapy.

The latest success involves mice with an inherited form of deafness, a team reports Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine. And a similar approach is already being tried in people with hearing loss caused by damage to cells in the inner ear.

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Shots - Health News
2:10 pm
Wed July 1, 2015

How Your Brain Remembers Where You Parked The Car

The experiment used a fake photo of actor Clint Eastwood and Pisa's leaning tower to test how the brain links person and place.
Courtesy of Matias Ison/Neuron

Originally published on Mon July 6, 2015 12:48 pm

If you run into an old friend at the train station, your brain will probably form a memory of the experience. And that memory will forever link the person you saw with the place where you saw him.

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Shots - Health News
2:51 am
Sat June 13, 2015

Science Of Sadness And Joy: 'Inside Out' Gets Childhood Emotions Right

Joy (left, voiced by Amy Poehler) and Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith) catch a ride on the Train of Thought in Pixar's Inside Out. The movie opens in theaters nationwide June 19.
Disney/Pixar

Originally published on Mon June 15, 2015 12:26 pm

Hollywood's version of science often asks us to believe that dinosaurs can be cloned from ancient DNA (they can't), or that the next ice age could develop in just a few days (it couldn't).

But Pixar's film Inside Out is an animated fantasy that remains remarkably true to what scientists have learned about the mind, emotion and memory.

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The Salt
12:24 pm
Wed June 3, 2015

Chimps Are No Chumps: Give Them An Oven, They'll Learn To Cook

Kanzi the bonobo (a species closely related to chimps) holds a pan of vegetables he cooked at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, November 2011. Kanzi was taught to cook. However, a new study is the first to show that animals can acquire a cooking-like skill on their own.
Laurentiu Garofeanu Barcroft Media /Landov

Originally published on Wed June 3, 2015 10:34 pm

If you give a chimp an oven, he or she will learn to cook.

That's what scientists concluded from a study that could help explain how and when early humans first began cooking their food.

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Shots - Health News
9:29 am
Thu May 28, 2015

Depression Treatments Inspired By Club Drug Move Ahead In Tests

Experimental medicines related to ketamine, an anesthetic and club drug, are making progress in clinical tests.
Wikipedia

Originally published on Mon June 1, 2015 5:36 am

Antidepressant drugs that work in hours instead of weeks could be on the market within three years, researchers say.

"We're getting closer and closer to having really, truly next-generation treatments that are better and quicker than existing ones," says Dr. Carlos Zarate, a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health.

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Shots - Health News
1:52 am
Mon May 18, 2015

Deaf Jam: Experiencing Music Through A Cochlear Implant

Sam Swiller and his dog, Sully, in their home in Washington, D.C.
Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Originally published on Mon May 18, 2015 10:16 am

When Sam Swiller used hearing aids, his musical tastes ran to AC/DC and Nirvana — loud bands with lots of drums and bass. But after Swiller got a cochlear implant in 2005, he found that sort of music less appealing.

"I was getting pushed away from sounds I used to love," he says, "but also being more attracted to sounds that I never appreciated before." So he began listening to folk and alternative music, including the Icelandic singer Bjork.

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Shots - Health News
1:35 am
Thu May 14, 2015

A Database Of All Things Brainy

The Allen Cell Types Database catalogs all sorts of details about each type of brain cell, including its shape and electrical activity. These cells, taken from the visual area of a mouse brain, are colored according to the patterns of electrical activity they produce.
Courtesy of Allen Institute for Brain Science

Originally published on Mon June 1, 2015 5:52 pm

When the brain needs to remember a phone number or learn a new dance step, it creates a circuit by connecting different types of neurons.

Scientists still don't know how many types of neurons there are or exactly what each type does.

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Shots - Health News
10:15 am
Thu April 23, 2015

Thoughts Can Fuel Some Deadly Brain Cancers

A color-enhanced cerebral MRI showing a glioma tumor.
Scott Camazine Science Source

Originally published on Thu April 23, 2015 5:03 pm

The simple act of thinking can accelerate the growth of many brain tumors.

That's the conclusion of a paper in Cell published Thursday that showed how activity in the cerebral cortex affected high-grade gliomas, which represent about 80 percent of all malignant brain tumors in people.

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Shots - Health News
1:45 pm
Tue April 14, 2015

No Rest For Your Sleeping Brain

Originally published on Thu April 30, 2015 2:28 pm

There's new evidence that the brain's activity during sleep isn't random. And the findings could help explain why the brain consumes so much energy even when it appears to be resting.

"There is something that's going on in a very structured manner during rest and during sleep," says Stanford neurologist Dr. Josef Parvizi, "and that will, of course, require energy consumption."

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Shots - Health News
4:42 pm
Wed April 8, 2015

Sushi Science: A 3-D View Of The Body's Wasabi Receptor

The same nerve receptor that responds to the green paste on your sushi plate is activated by car exhaust, the smoke of a wildfire, tear gas and other chemical irritants.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Wed April 8, 2015 5:33 pm

Researchers have discovered the exact structure of the receptor that makes our sensory nerves tingle when we eat sushi garnished with wasabi. And because the "wasabi receptor" is also involved in pain perception, knowing its shape should help pharmaceutical companies develop new drugs to fight pain.

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Shots - Health News
1:11 pm
Tue March 31, 2015

Hackers Teach Computers To Tell Healthy And Sick Brain Cells Apart

The Allen Institute for Brain Science hosted its first BigNeuron Hackathon in Beijing earlier this month. Similar events are planned for the U.S. and U.K.
Courtesy of Allen Institute for Brain Science

Originally published on Wed April 8, 2015 9:17 am

Brain researchers are joining forces with computer hackers to tackle a big challenge in neuroscience: teaching computers how to tell a healthy neuron from a sick one.

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Shots - Health News
2:58 am
Tue March 31, 2015

No Easy, Reliable Way To Screen For Suicide

About twice a year, statistics suggest, a pilot somewhere in the world — usually flying alone — deliberately crashes a plane. The Germanwing flight downed last week may be one such case. But most people who fit the psychological profile of the pilots in these very rare events never have problems while flying.
Patrik Stollarz AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed April 1, 2015 4:57 pm

Even a careful psychiatric examination of the co-pilot involved in last week's Germanwings jetliner crash probably would not have revealed whether he intended to kill himself, researchers say.

"As a field, we're not very good at accurately predicting who is at risk for suicidal behavior," says Matthew Nock, a psychology professor at Harvard. He says studies show that mental health professionals "perform no better than chance" when it comes to predicting which patients will attempt suicide.

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Shots - Health News
2:39 pm
Wed March 25, 2015

University And Biotech Firm Team Up On Colorblindness Therapy

A simulation from the Neitz lab of what colorblindness looks like, with normal color vision on the left and red-green colorblindness on the right.
Courtesy of Neitz Laboratory

Originally published on Wed April 8, 2015 5:23 pm

More than 10 million Americans have trouble distinguishing red from green or blue from yellow, and there's no treatment for colorblindness.

A biotech company and two scientists hope to change that.

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Shots - Health News
1:44 am
Tue March 24, 2015

Many Doctors Who Diagnose Alzheimer's Fail To Tell The Patient

When combined with results of other neurological tests, and in the context of a thorough medical history, atrophy of the brain (shown here in an MRI scan) sometimes indicates Alzheimer's.
Simon Fraser Science Source

Originally published on Tue March 24, 2015 11:01 am

Doctors are much more likely to level with patients who have cancer than patients who have Alzheimer's, according to a report released this week by the Alzheimer's Association.

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Shots - Health News
4:33 pm
Mon March 16, 2015

Clues To Autism, Schizophrenia Emerge From Cerebellum Research

Jonathan Keleher talks with a colleague, Rafael Wainhaus, at work. Keleher was born without a cerebellum, but his brain has developed work-arounds for solving problems of balance and abstract thought.
Ellen Webber for NPR

Originally published on Tue March 17, 2015 2:27 pm

A new understanding of the brain's cerebellum could lead to new treatments for people with problems caused by some strokes, autism and even schizophrenia.

That's because there's growing evidence that symptoms ranging from difficulty with abstract thinking to emotional instability to psychosis all have links to the cerebellum, says Jeremy Schmahmann, a professor of neurology at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital.

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Shots - Health News
1:08 am
Mon March 16, 2015

A Man's Incomplete Brain Reveals Cerebellum's Role In Thought And Emotion

Jonathan Keleher is one of a handful of people who have lived their entire lives without a cerebellum.
Ellen Webber for NPR

Originally published on Wed April 1, 2015 4:40 pm

Since his birth 33 years ago, Jonathan Keleher has been living without a cerebellum, a structure that usually contains about half the brain's neurons.

This exceedingly rare condition has left Jonathan with a distinctive way of speaking and a walk that is slightly awkward. He also lacks the balance to ride a bicycle.

But all that hasn't kept him from living on his own, holding down an office job and charming pretty much every person he meets.

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Shots - Health News
2:38 pm
Mon March 9, 2015

Mad Cow Research Hints At Ways To Halt Alzheimer's, Parkinson's

Prion protein can be infectious, spreading from cell to cell in the brain. Here four nerve cells in a mouse illustrate how infectious prion protein moves within cells along neurites — wire-like connections the nerve cells use for communicating with adjacent cells.
Science Source

Originally published on Tue March 10, 2015 7:18 am

Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ravage the brain in very different ways. But they have at least one thing in common, says Corinne Lasmezas, a neuroscientist and professor at Scripps Research Institute, in Jupiter, Fla. Each spreads from brain cell to brain cell like an infection.

"So if we could block this [process], that might prevent the diseases," Lasmezas says.

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Shots - Health News
7:44 pm
Thu February 19, 2015

Why California's Superbug Outbreak Isn't As Scary As It Seems

A particularly nasty family of gut bacteria with the nickname CRE is resistant even to carbapenems, a family of last-resort antibiotics.
CDC

Originally published on Fri February 20, 2015 3:49 pm

News reports are describing a "nightmare superbug" killing people in California. But scientists who study infectious diseases say the risk from this outbreak doesn't live up to the alarming headlines.

"It's not something that is likely to spread around the community or is a cause for alarm," says David Perlin, an infectious disease scientist and executive director of the Public Health Research Institute at Rutgers.

Here's what government health officials and the UCLA Health system have said so far:

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Shots - Health News
2:49 pm
Wed February 18, 2015

Pain Really Is All In Your Head And Emotion Controls Intensity

iStockphoto

Originally published on Thu February 19, 2015 12:57 pm

When you whack yourself with a hammer, it feels like the pain is in your thumb. But really it's in your brain.

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Shots - Health News
1:42 am
Mon February 16, 2015

Beyond BPA: Court Battle Reveals A Shift In Debate Over Plastic Safety

Eastman Chemical went a step beyond calling Tritan plastic BPA-free, setting off a legal challenge.
Eastman

Originally published on Tue February 17, 2015 2:56 pm

BPA-free isn't good enough anymore if you're trying to sell plastic sippy cups, water bottles and food containers.

The new standard may be "EA-free," which means free of not only BPA, short for bisphenol A, but also free of other chemicals that mimic the hormone estrogen.

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Shots - Health News
1:39 am
Wed February 4, 2015

Once A Vaccine Skeptic, This Mom Changed Her Mind

Juniper Russo walks her dogs with her daughter Vivian (left).
Courtesy of Juniper Russo

Originally published on Thu February 5, 2015 6:16 am

The ongoing measles outbreak linked to Disneyland has led to some harsh comments about parents who don't vaccinate their kids. But Juniper Russo, a writer in Chattanooga, Tenn., says she understands those parents because she used to be one of them.

"I know what it's like to be scared and just want to protect your children, and make the wrong decisions," Russo says.

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Shots - Health News
4:02 pm
Fri January 23, 2015

Leaky Blood Vessels In The Brain May Lead To Alzheimer's

Leaks in a barrier between blood vessels and brain cells could contribute to the development of Alzheimer's.
VEM Science Source

Originally published on Tue January 27, 2015 7:00 am

Researchers appear to have found a new risk factor for Alzheimer's disease: leaky blood vessels.

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Shots - Health News
2:33 pm
Wed January 14, 2015

From The Mouths Of Apes, Babble Hints At Origins of Human Speech

Tilda the orangutan, relaxing between gabfests at the Cologne Zoo.
Cologne Zoo

Originally published on Fri January 16, 2015 6:56 am

An orangutan named Tilda is providing scientists with fresh evidence that even early human ancestors had the ability to make speechlike vocalizations.

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Shots - Health News
2:58 pm
Wed January 7, 2015

Brain Scans May Help Predict Future Problems, And Solutions

By measuring activity in different parts of the brain, neuroscientsts can get a sense of how some people will respond to treatments.
John Lund Getty Images

Originally published on Thu January 8, 2015 3:55 pm

Brain scans may soon be able to help predict a person's future — some aspects of it, anyway.

Information from these scans increasingly is able to suggest whether a child will have trouble with math, say, or whether someone with mental illness is going to respond to a particular treatment, according to a review of dozens of studies published Wednesday in the journal Neuron.

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The Salt
1:52 am
Tue January 6, 2015

How Anglers Are Learning To Save Fish That Get 'The Bends'

Barotrauma can cause a fish's eyes to pop out of its head and its stomach to be pushed out of its mouth, according to Chris Lowe, a marine scientist at California State, Long Beach.
Jon Hamilton NPR

Originally published on Tue January 6, 2015 9:35 am

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