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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4:20pm

Tue June 30, 2015
All Tech Considered

Flood Maps Can Get Much Sharper With A Little Supercomputing Oomph

Originally published on Tue June 30, 2015 7:14 pm

This is a calculated flood map for the city of St. Louis. Water depth goes from deep (dark blue) to shallow (white, light blue). Floodwater can come from the Illinois, Upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers, as well as from heavy local precipitation.
Courtesy of Dag Lohmann/Katrisk

A small company in California is hoping to make a big splash by providing detailed flood maps to homeowners and insurance companies. And to do that, the company is using one of the fastest supercomputers in the world.

The company is called Katrisk, based in Berkeley, Calif. Hydrologist and computer modeler Dag Lohmann is one of the company's founders. He says the flood maps the Federal Emergency Management Agency already produces will tell you how prone a particular area is to flooding.

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7:30am

Fri June 12, 2015
Research News

Scientists Investigate What Makes Us Itch

Originally published on Fri June 12, 2015 12:23 pm

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

Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Scientists have just scratched the surface of another important problem - why some things make us itch. Today, there's progress to report. Researchers in California have found a molecule that may be crucial for our brains to sense itch. NPR's Joe Palca has more.

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3:32am

Mon June 1, 2015
Goats and Soda

How A Drunken Chipmunk Voice Helps Send A Public Service Message

Originally published on Tue June 2, 2015 9:54 am

Illlustration by Hanna Barczyk

You get a voicemail message from a friend. Her voice sounds a little ... weird. Like a chipmunk who had too much to drink.

After her message, you're told you can push a button on the phone and hear another kind of message: say, job listings in your neighborhood or tips on how to stop the spread of Ebola.

That's how a new game called Polly works. It was designed by computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University to help get useful information to people with little or no reading skills.

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5:31am

Sat May 16, 2015
Joe's Big Idea

'Playing Around With Telescopes' To Explore Secrets Of The Universe

Originally published on Mon May 18, 2015 12:26 pm

The 200-inch Hale Telescope, a masterpiece of engineering at Caltech's Palomar Observatory, was the world's largest telescope until 1993.
Scott Kardel/Palomar Observatory Courtesy of Palomar Observatory/California Institute of Technology

Shrinivas Kulkarni, an astronomy and planetary science professor at the California Institute of Technology, is a serious astronomer. But not too serious.

"We astronomers are supposed to say, 'We wonder about the stars and we really want to think about it,' " says Kulkarni — in other words, think deep thoughts. But he says that's not really the way it is.

"Many scientists, I think, secretly are what I call 'boys with toys,' " he says. "I really like playing around with telescopes. It's just not fashionable to admit it."

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2:32pm

Wed April 29, 2015
The Two-Way

Welcome To The Neighborhood: 2 Super-Earths Discovered

Originally published on Thu April 30, 2015 8:53 am

An artist's rendition of the HD 7924 planetary system — just 54 light-years away from Earth — shows newly discovered exoplanets c and d, which join Planet b.
Karen Termaura, BJ Fulton UH IfA

Using telescopes in Hawaii and California, astronomers have found two super-Earth-size planets orbiting a star a mere 54 light-years away.

This brings to three the total number of exoplanets around the star HD 7924.

The discovery is important for two reasons. NASA's Kepler telescope has shown that giant rocky planets orbiting close to their stars are fairly common for distant stars. The new finding confirms that such planets exist around local stars, as well.

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7:59am

Sat April 25, 2015
Joe's Big Idea

Hubble's Other Telescope And The Day It Rocked Our World

Originally published on Sat April 25, 2015 12:36 pm

The Hooker 100-inch reflecting telescope at the Mount Wilson Observatory, just outside Los Angeles. Edwin Hubble's chair, on an elevating platform, is visible at left. A view from this scope first told Hubble our galaxy isn't the only one.
Courtesy of The Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science Collection at the Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif.

The Hubble Space Telescope this week celebrates 25 years in Earth's orbit. In that time the telescope has studied distant galaxies, star nurseries, planets in our solar system and planets orbiting other stars.

But, even with all that, you could argue that the astronomer for whom the telescope is named made even more important discoveries — with far less sophisticated equipment.

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6:04am

Tue April 21, 2015
Research News

3-D Printers Are Changing The Way People Think About Manufacturing

Originally published on Wed April 22, 2015 9:52 am

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

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

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3:45am

Wed April 8, 2015
Shots - Health News

Doctors Test Tumor Paint In People

Originally published on Wed April 8, 2015 5:52 pm

Blaze Bioscience is commercially developing the "paint," which glows when exposed to near-infrared light.
Courtesy of Blaze Bioscience

A promising technique for making brain tumors glow so they'll be easier for surgeons to remove is now being tested in cancer patients.

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2:34pm

Mon March 30, 2015
Joe's Big Idea

Want To Do A Little Astrophysics? This App Detects Cosmic Rays

Originally published on Tue March 31, 2015 11:40 am

Smart phones contain a silicon chip inside the camera that might be used to detect rare, high energy particles from outer space.
J. Yang/Courtesy of WIPAC

Scientists in California are hoping to use your smart phone to solve a cosmic mystery. They're developing an app to turn your phone into a cosmic ray detector. If enough people install the app, the scientists think they'll be able to figure out once and for all what's producing the very energetic cosmic rays that occasionally hit the Earth.

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7:22am

Wed March 25, 2015
Research News

Safer Anthrax Test Aims To Keep The Bioweapon From Terrorists

Originally published on Thu April 2, 2015 3:48 pm

Safe and small: The credit-card-sized test for anthrax destroys the deadly bacteria after the test completes.
Courtesy of Sandia Nation

Engineers at Sandia National Laboratory have come up with what they think is a safer diagnostic test for anthrax bacteria — a test that would prevent the "bad guys" from getting their hands on this dangerous pathogen.

Sandia is home to the International Biological Threat Reduction Program. "Our interest is in safety and security of pathogens," says Melissa Finley. Finley isn't a bioweapons expert. She's a veterinarian.

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