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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3:45am

Thu September 12, 2013
Shots - Health News

Why Painting Tumors Could Make Brain Surgeons Better

Originally published on Thu September 12, 2013 6:58 am

Physician Jim Olson cares for children with brain cancer in Seattle. His laboratory studies the gene expression programs controlling neural differentiation, brain tumor genesis and neurodegenerative diseases.
Courtesy of Susie Fitzhugh/Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Perhaps one of the most uncomfortable things a doctor has to tell patients is that their medical problems are iatrogenic. What that means is they were caused by a doctor in the course of the treatment.

Sometime these iatrogenic injuries are accidental. But sometimes, because of the limits of medical technology, they can be inevitable. Now, a medical researcher in Seattle thinks he has a way to eliminate some of the inevitable ones.

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5:11am

Tue September 10, 2013
Space

NASA's Latest Mission To The Moon Is On Track

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 7:08 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

NASA's latest mission to the moon is stuck in orbit around the Earth. And that sounds bad. But as NPR Science Correspondent Joe Palca explains, it's actually normal.

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5:05am

Fri September 6, 2013
Space

Communications Gear Hitches Ride With Lunar Probe

Originally published on Fri September 6, 2013 12:40 pm

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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3:38pm

Thu September 5, 2013
Joe's Big Idea

Coronal Holes: The (Rarely Round) Gaps In The Sun's Atmosphere

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 5:21 pm

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this picture of the sun on June 18. The dark blue area in the upper left quadrant of the sun is a huge coronal hole more than 400,000 miles across. Coronal holes are areas of the sun's outermost atmospheric layer — the corona — where the magnetic field opens up and solar material quickly flows out.
NASA/SDO

There's a hole in the sun's corona. But don't worry — that happens from time to time.

"A coronal hole is just a big, dark blotch that we see on the sun in our images," says Dean Pesnell, project scientist for NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. "We can only see them from space, because when we look at them [through] a regular telescope, they don't appear."

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3:45pm

Wed September 4, 2013
Shots - Health News

The Inside Story On The Fear Of Holes

Originally published on Thu September 5, 2013 9:25 am

Beautiful or creepy? A recent survey found that an image of a lotus seed head makes about 15 percent of people uncomfortable or even repulsed.
tanakawho Flickr.com

Trypophobia may be moving out of the urban dictionary and into the scientific literature.

A recent study in the peer-review journal Psychological Science takes a first crack at explaining why some people may suffer from a fear of holes.

Trypophobia may be hard to find in textbooks and diagnostic manuals, but a brief Web search will show that plenty of people appear to have it.

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5:29pm

Tue August 27, 2013
Science

Hole Or Whole, Why Can Our Brains Hear The Difference?

Originally published on Tue August 27, 2013 6:31 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And finally this hour, a hole. This summer, NPR's science correspondent Joe Palca has been helping us out. Occasionally, our mix of news and features doesn't completely fill our two-hour program and we end up with a few small holes to fill, so Joe has been filling them with short science-y pieces about holes. He's talked about black holes, theoretical holes, even donut holes. Here's his latest.

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5:38pm

Wed August 21, 2013
Science

Defining A Hole Presents A Philosophical Quandary

Originally published on Tue August 27, 2013 11:24 am

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

I'm Melissa Block. And a radio confession here. We had a hole in our program right here. We didn't have a piece just the right length to fill out this segment. It happens occasionally. Well, all summer, NPR science correspondent Joe Palca has been helping us get rid of these little holes with some short stories about holes.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Today, we're going to examine the question, what is a hole anyway? What's it made of?

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5:24am

Thu August 15, 2013
Joe's Big Idea

Scientists Reach Milestone In Quest For Smart Windows

Smart windows change how much sunlight they let through on a hot day. Such windows could reduce the demand for energy by reducing the need for air conditioning. This quest has been going on for years but it's got years to go before the project becomes a reality.

4:51pm

Mon August 12, 2013
Science

A Ball Dropped Through The Earth Becomes A Permanent Pendulum

Originally published on Mon August 12, 2013 6:03 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Occasionally, when it's a slow news day, we wind up with holes in the show; gaps of a minute or two that the news of the day doesn't quite fill.

NPR science correspondent Joe Palca offered to fill those with science stories about holes.

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4:31pm

Wed August 7, 2013
Space

Black Holes One Of Space's Great Paradoxes

Originally published on Wed August 7, 2013 5:48 pm

Late summer tends to be a slow month for news. But at All Things Considered, we put on a two hour program, no matter what. So — without a trace of irony — one of our science correspondents offered to help fill some holes in the show with a series of stories about holes. In this edition: Black holes.

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