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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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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2:29pm

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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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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4:00pm

Mon February 16, 2015
Joe's Big Idea

Climate Scientist Tries Arts To Stir Hearts Regarding Earth's Fate

Originally published on Tue February 17, 2015 12:45 pm

Robert Davies (standing) and the quartet during a performance of "The Crossroads Project." Musicians include (left to right) Robert Waters, Rebecca McFaul, Anne Francis Bayless and Bradley Ottesen.
Andrew McCallister Courtesy of The Crossroads Project

5:58pm

Mon January 26, 2015
Animals

On The Ant Highway, There's Never A Backup

Originally published on Mon January 26, 2015 7:45 pm

A team of Indian physicists has made a mathematical model that purports to explain why ants don't have traffic jams. NPR's Joe Palca explains as part of his series, Joe's Big Idea.

This story originally aired on Morning Edition on January 19, 2015.

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3:34am

Mon January 19, 2015
Joe's Big Idea

Why Ants Handle Traffic Better Than You Do

Originally published on Wed June 24, 2015 10:52 am

Unless there's a serious pileup, ants in traffic tend to bypass a collision and just keep going. A physicist has found a way to model this behavior with a mathematical equation.
iStockphoto

Could studying ants reveal clues to reducing highway traffic jams? Physicist Apoorva Nagar at the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology thinks the answer is yes.

Nagar says he got interested in the topic when he came across a study by German and Indian researchers showing that ants running along a path were able to maintain a steady speed even when there were a large number of ants on the path.

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4:21pm

Tue December 23, 2014
Joe's Big Idea

Could Glitter Help Solve NASA's Giant Telescope Problem?

Originally published on Thu February 5, 2015 1:16 am

Larkin Carey, an optical engineer with Ball Aerospace, examines two test mirror segments designed for the James Webb Space Telescope. The mirror for the scope is extremely powerful, but heavy and pricey.
NASA

NASA is building a new space telescope with astounding capabilities. The James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2018, will replace the aging Hubble Space Telescope and will provide unprecedented views of the first galaxies to form in the early universe. It might even offer the first clear glimpse of an Earth-like planet orbiting a distant star.

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5:01am

Mon December 15, 2014
Research News

Why Some Scientific Collaborations Are More Beneficial Than Others

Originally published on Fri December 19, 2014 1:09 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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3:14am

Thu December 4, 2014
The Two-Way

To Search For A New Supernova, Build A New Camera

Originally published on Thu December 11, 2014 2:03 pm

A blast from the past: Using data from four telescopes, NASA created this image of the first documented sighting of a supernova, made by Chinese astronomers in 185 A.D.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/B. Williams

The search for the massive star explosions called supernovae is about to get a big boost. Astronomers at Caltech in Pasadena are building a new camera that will let them survey the entire night sky in three nights.

The problem with looking for supernovae is you can't really be sure when and where to look for them. Most telescope cameras can only capture a small patch of sky at a time. But the new camera, to be mounted on a telescope at the Palomar Observatory, has a much larger field of view.

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5:16am

Mon November 24, 2014
Shots - Health News

Africa Inspires A Health Care Experiment In New York

Originally published on Mon November 24, 2014 5:09 pm

Norma Melendez, a community health worker with City Health Works, walks along Second Avenue on her way to meet a client. City Health Works is an organization that is attempting to bring an African model of health care delivery to the United States.
Bryan Thomas for NPR

There's a project in the neighborhood of Harlem in New York that has a through-the-looking-glass quality. An organization called City Health Works is trying to bring an African model of health care delivery to the United States. Usually it works the other way around.

If City Health Works' approach is successful, it could help change the way chronic diseases are managed in poverty-stricken communities, where people suffer disproportionately from HIV/AIDS, obesity and diabetes.

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12:33pm

Mon November 3, 2014
The Salt

A Non-GMO Way To Get More, Tastier Tomatoes

Researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory say their new genetic toolkit to improve tomato yield without compromising flavor can be used in all varieties, from plum to cherry.
Courtesy of Zach Lippman/Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

People who grow tomatoes want varieties that produce as much saleable crop as possible. People who eat tomatoes are less interested in yield, and more in taste. The tension between taste and yield can get pretty intense. What's a poor tomato plant to do?

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4:57am

Fri October 31, 2014
Shots - Health News

Look Here: Phone App Checks Photos For Eye Disease

Originally published on Fri October 31, 2014 11:02 am

Examples of what the iPhone app looks for: The white reflection from an otherwise dark pupil can indicate a tumor, a cataract or other eye problems.
Claire Eggers NPR

There's now free software for your iPhone that lets you check for early signs of certain eye diseases.

The idea for the app comes from a Baylor University chemist named Bryan Shaw. We introduced you to Shaw late last year.

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