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.

Scientists in Ireland are using a rather unexpected material to make an extremely sensitive pressure detector: Silly Putty. The Irish researchers combined the kids' plaything with a special form of carbon, and came up with a remarkable new material — one they think could someday be useful in making medical devices. Physicist Jonathan Coleman , at Trinity College, Dublin, says Silly Putty has some extraordinary properties. If you roll the stuff into a tight ball and throw it on the ground, it...

The next generation of great space telescopes is heading into its final round of ground tests. The nearly $9 billion James Webb Space Telescope will replace the aging Hubble Space Telescope . It's designed to provide unprecedented images of the earliest stars and galaxies that formed in the universe. But before the telescope can get to work, there are still a lot of engineering challenges to overcome. For example, the Webb telescope is designed to look at the infrared wavelengths of light...

Scientists in Michigan have found a new dwarf planet in our solar system. It's about 330 miles across and some 8.5 billion miles from the sun. It takes 1,100 years to complete one orbit. But one of the most interesting things about the new object, known for the time being as 2014 UZ224, is the way astronomers found it. David Gerdes of the University of Michigan led the team that found the new dwarf planet. Gerdes describes himself as "an adult-onset astronomer," having started his scientific...

Most of us have been tempted at one time or another by the lure of sugar. Think of all the cakes and cookies you consume between Thanksgiving and Christmastime! But why are some people unable to resist that second cupcake or slice of pie? That's the question driving the research of Monica Dus , a molecular biologist at the University of Michigan. She wants to understand how excess sugar leads to obesity by understanding the effect of sugar on the brain. Dus's interest in how animals control...

This is a story about a revolution that never happened. In 1975, a novel transportation system called Personal Rapid Transit, or PRT for short, started operating in Morgantown , West Va. It was supposed to usher in a new age of public transit. It didn't. But West Virginia University, which operates the PRT system , remains committed to it — and is spending more than $100 million to refurbish the aging system. PRT is very different from conventional mass transit. Normally, when you get on a...

NASA's next Mars rover mission doesn't launch until 2020, but the process of picking a landing site is already underway. Right now, one of the leading suggestions comes from a teenager who hasn't yet finished high school. Alex Longo , of Raleigh, N.C., has been a fan of space exploration for almost as long as he can remember. "My first experience with space exploration was in 2005," he says. "I was just 5 years old, and mom and dad had me watch a space shuttle launch ." Watching that shuttle...

NASA has released the first close-up images ever taken of Jupiter's north pole. They were photographed by the Juno spacecraft now in orbit around the gas giant. The north pole looks totally different from the rest of the planet. "It's bluer in color up there than other parts of the planet, and there are a lot of storms," Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute, says in a NASA statement on Friday. "This image is hardly recognizable as Jupiter," he...

Three college-age scientists think they know how to solve a huge problem facing medicine. They think they've found a way to overcome antibiotic resistance. Many of the most powerful antibiotics have lost their efficacy against dangerous bacteria, so finding new antibiotics is a priority. It's too soon to say for sure if the young researchers are right, but if gumption and enthusiasm count for anything, they stand a fighting chance. I met Zach Rosenthal, Christian Choe and Maria Filsinger...

This summer, NPR's science desk is thinking about waves, of all kinds — ocean, gravitational, even stadium waves. But what is a wave, anyway? My editor asked me to puzzle that one out. And, to be honest, I was puzzled. Is a wave a thing? Or is it the description of a thing? Or is it a mathematical formula that produces a curve that gives you the description of a thing? Rather than pester a scientist with my somewhat philosophical questions, I decided to pester a philosopher. Marc Cohen is...

NASA has released the first picture of Jupiter taken since the Juno spacecraft went into orbit around the planet on July 4. The picture was taken on July 10. Juno was 2.7 million miles from Jupiter at the time. The color image shows some of the atmospheric features of the planet, including the giant red spot. You can also see three of Jupiter's moons in the picture: Io, Europa and Ganymede. JunoCam is the only color camera on the mission. Strictly speaking, it's not part of the spacecraft's...

After a five-year journey through the solar system, NASA's $1.1 billion Juno mission is set to begin its orbit around Jupiter on Monday. But for the probe to be captured by the giant planet's gravity and go into the desired orbit, Juno's main engine has to fire for 35 minutes. "We've only got one shot," says Guy Beutelschies, director of space exploration systems at Lockheed Martin, the company that built and operates Juno . "If we miss this flyby, we're assuming the mission's over." That...

In 1975, I was living in San Diego and needed a job. The roommate of a friend of mine was a scientist at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation. He said a colleague of his was looking to hire a lab technician, so I applied and got the job. The scientist I worked for was some guy from a small town in Texas. His name? Jim Allison. Jim has invented a new kind of cancer therapy that enables patients' own immune systems to fight off their disease. He's won all kinds of awards for his work, and...

Since 2014, the U.S. Army has gradually been deploying the latest version of a hearing protection system that protects users from loud noises while still letting them hear the world around them. The system is called TCAPS , or Tactical Communication and Protective System, and about 20,000 of the new TCAPS devices have been deployed in the field so far. Hearing loss is a big problem in the military. A spokeswoman for the Defense Department Hearing Center of Excellence wrote in an email that 1...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VopaBsuwikk NASA called off today's effort to inflate an expandable module attached to the International Space Station after its first attempt fell flat. The module is called BEAM, Bigelow Expandable Activity Module . It's a prototype of what could be a new kind of living quarters in space. The advantage of an expandable module is that it can be folded so it takes up less room in a cargo rocket, and then expanded once it reaches space. Folded up, BEAM looks like...

Sir Harold Walter Kroto died on April 30, and I've been thinking a lot about him ever since. Harry, as he preferred to called, was one of the most remarkable people I've ever known. We met in 2013 when I was moderating a panel of Nobel laureates at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix. He was obviously smart, having co-discovered new forms of carbon called buckminsterfullerenes — or buckyballs — and sharing a Nobel prize for that work in 1996. But he was also funny, wise,...

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