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.

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8:13am

Sat July 26, 2014
Space

Close Encounters Of The Radio Kind? Mystery Bursts Baffle Astronomers

Originally published on Sat July 26, 2014 8:35 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 Tue July 22, 2014 1:13 pm

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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6:35am

Tue July 1, 2014
Space

Why Theories On Black Holes Are Full Of Holes

Originally published on Tue July 1, 2014 2:24 pm

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Scientists announced, earlier this week, they had discovered three supermassive black holes orbiting close together in a single galaxy. That indicates that black holes are more common than astronomers previously thought. And it's a good reason to revisit a report from Joe Palca on black holes. In this encore segment, he reports that the theories about these super powerful bodies are still, well, full of holes.

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4:20pm

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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4:44pm

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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6:25am

Mon June 23, 2014
Research News

How Did The Meter Get Its Length?

Originally published on Mon June 30, 2014 10:45 am

One of 30 copies of the first protoype meter made by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in Sevres, France. 1875-1889
NIST Museum Collection

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

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4:06pm

Mon June 9, 2014
Space

To Put Two Rovers On Mars, Scientists Had To Get Clever With Packing

Originally published on Mon June 9, 2014 7:01 pm

To fit in their shipping container, two Mars rovers had to be folded up into a tiny package and then unfolded — a prime example of what NPR science correspondent Joe Palca calls "unfolding science."

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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