Jon Hamilton

Jon Hamilton is a correspondent for NPR's Science Desk. Currently he focuses on neuroscience, health risks, and extreme weather.

Following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Hamilton was part of NPR's team of science reporters and editors who went to Japan to cover the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

Hamilton contributed several pieces to the Science Desk series "The Human Edge," which looked at what makes people the most versatile and powerful species on Earth. His reporting explained how humans use stories, how the highly evolved human brain is made from primitive parts, and what autism reveals about humans social brains.

In 2009, Hamilton received the Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award for his piece on the neuroscience behind treating autism.

Before joining NPR in 1998, Hamilton was a media fellow with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation studying health policy issues. He reported on states that have improved their Medicaid programs for the poor by enrolling beneficiaries in private HMOs.

From 1995-1997, Hamilton wrote on health and medical topics as a freelance writer, after having been a medical reporter for both The Commercial Appeal and Physician's Weekly.

Hamilton graduated with honors from Oberlin College in Ohio with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. As a student, he was the editor of the Oberlin Review student newspaper. He earned his master's degree in journalism from Columbia University, where he graduated with honors During his time at Columbia, Hamilton was awarded the Baker Prize for magazine writing and earned a Sherwood traveling fellowship.

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4:51am

Sat June 13, 2015
Shots - Health News

Science Of Sadness And Joy: 'Inside Out' Gets Childhood Emotions Right

Originally published on Mon June 15, 2015 2:26 pm

Joy (left, voiced by Amy Poehler) and Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith) catch a ride on the Train of Thought in Pixar's Inside Out. The movie opens in theaters nationwide June 19.
Disney/Pixar

Hollywood's version of science often asks us to believe that dinosaurs can be cloned from ancient DNA (they can't), or that the next ice age could develop in just a few days (it couldn't).

But Pixar's film Inside Out is an animated fantasy that remains remarkably true to what scientists have learned about the mind, emotion and memory.

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2:35pm

Wed June 3, 2015
The Salt

Chimps Are No Chumps: Give Them An Oven, They'll Learn To Cook

Originally published on Thu June 4, 2015 12:34 am

Kanzi the bonobo (a species closely related to chimps) holds a pan of vegetables he cooked at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, November 2011. Kanzi was taught to cook. However, a new study is the first to show that animals can acquire a cooking-like skill on their own.
Laurentiu Garofeanu Barcroft Media /Landov

If you give a chimp an oven, he or she will learn to cook.

That's what scientists concluded from a study that could help explain how and when early humans first began cooking their food.

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11:51am

Thu May 28, 2015
Shots - Health News

Depression Treatments Inspired By Club Drug Move Ahead In Tests

Originally published on Mon June 1, 2015 7:36 am

Experimental medicines related to ketamine, an anesthetic and club drug, are making progress in clinical tests.
Wikipedia

Antidepressant drugs that work in hours instead of weeks could be on the market within three years, researchers say.

"We're getting closer and closer to having really, truly next-generation treatments that are better and quicker than existing ones," says Dr. Carlos Zarate, a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health.

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3:52am

Mon May 18, 2015
Shots - Health News

Deaf Jam: Experiencing Music Through A Cochlear Implant

Originally published on Mon May 18, 2015 12:16 pm

Sam Swiller and his dog, Sully, in their home in Washington, D.C.
Meredith Rizzo/NPR

When Sam Swiller used hearing aids, his musical tastes ran to AC/DC and Nirvana — loud bands with lots of drums and bass. But after Swiller got a cochlear implant in 2005, he found that sort of music less appealing.

"I was getting pushed away from sounds I used to love," he says, "but also being more attracted to sounds that I never appreciated before." So he began listening to folk and alternative music, including the Icelandic singer Bjork.

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3:35am

Thu May 14, 2015
Shots - Health News

A Database Of All Things Brainy

Originally published on Mon June 1, 2015 7:52 pm

The Allen Cell Types Database catalogs all sorts of details about each type of brain cell, including its shape and electrical activity. These cells, taken from the visual area of a mouse brain, are colored according to the patterns of electrical activity they produce.
Courtesy of Allen Institute for Brain Science

When the brain needs to remember a phone number or learn a new dance step, it creates a circuit by connecting different types of neurons.

Scientists still don't know how many types of neurons there are or exactly what each type does.

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12:15pm

Thu April 23, 2015
Shots - Health News

Thoughts Can Fuel Some Deadly Brain Cancers

Originally published on Thu April 23, 2015 7:03 pm

A color-enhanced cerebral MRI showing a glioma tumor.
Scott Camazine Science Source

The simple act of thinking can accelerate the growth of many brain tumors.

That's the conclusion of a paper in Cell published Thursday that showed how activity in the cerebral cortex affected high-grade gliomas, which represent about 80 percent of all malignant brain tumors in people.

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4:21pm

Tue April 14, 2015
Shots - Health News

No Rest For Your Sleeping Brain

Originally published on Thu April 30, 2015 4:28 pm

There's new evidence that the brain's activity during sleep isn't random. And the findings could help explain why the brain consumes so much energy even when it appears to be resting.

"There is something that's going on in a very structured manner during rest and during sleep," says Stanford neurologist Dr. Josef Parvizi, "and that will, of course, require energy consumption."

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6:12pm

Wed April 8, 2015
Shots - Health News

Sushi Science: A 3-D View Of The Body's Wasabi Receptor

Originally published on Wed April 8, 2015 7:33 pm

The same nerve receptor that responds to the green paste on your sushi plate is activated by car exhaust, the smoke of a wildfire, tear gas and other chemical irritants.
iStockphoto

Researchers have discovered the exact structure of the receptor that makes our sensory nerves tingle when we eat sushi garnished with wasabi. And because the "wasabi receptor" is also involved in pain perception, knowing its shape should help pharmaceutical companies develop new drugs to fight pain.

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2:36pm

Tue March 31, 2015
Shots - Health News

Hackers Teach Computers To Tell Healthy And Sick Brain Cells Apart

Originally published on Wed April 8, 2015 11:17 am

The Allen Institute for Brain Science hosted its first BigNeuron Hackathon in Beijing earlier this month. Similar events are planned for the U.S. and U.K.
Courtesy of Allen Institute for Brain Science

Brain researchers are joining forces with computer hackers to tackle a big challenge in neuroscience: teaching computers how to tell a healthy neuron from a sick one.

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4:58am

Tue March 31, 2015
Shots - Health News

No Easy, Reliable Way To Screen For Suicide

Originally published on Wed April 1, 2015 6:57 pm

About twice a year, statistics suggest, a pilot somewhere in the world — usually flying alone — deliberately crashes a plane. The Germanwing flight downed last week may be one such case. But most people who fit the psychological profile of the pilots in these very rare events never have problems while flying.
Patrik Stollarz AFP/Getty Images

Even a careful psychiatric examination of the co-pilot involved in last week's Germanwings jetliner crash probably would not have revealed whether he intended to kill himself, researchers say.

"As a field, we're not very good at accurately predicting who is at risk for suicidal behavior," says Matthew Nock, a psychology professor at Harvard. He says studies show that mental health professionals "perform no better than chance" when it comes to predicting which patients will attempt suicide.

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4:14pm

Wed March 25, 2015
Shots - Health News

University And Biotech Firm Team Up On Colorblindness Therapy

Originally published on Wed April 8, 2015 7:23 pm

A simulation from the Neitz lab of what colorblindness looks like, with normal color vision on the left and red-green colorblindness on the right.
Courtesy of Neitz Laboratory

More than 10 million Americans have trouble distinguishing red from green or blue from yellow, and there's no treatment for colorblindness.

A biotech company and two scientists hope to change that.

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3:44am

Tue March 24, 2015
Shots - Health News

Many Doctors Who Diagnose Alzheimer's Fail To Tell The Patient

Originally published on Tue March 24, 2015 1:01 pm

When combined with results of other neurological tests, and in the context of a thorough medical history, atrophy of the brain (shown here in an MRI scan) sometimes indicates Alzheimer's.
Simon Fraser Science Source

Doctors are much more likely to level with patients who have cancer than patients who have Alzheimer's, according to a report released this week by the Alzheimer's Association.

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6:25pm

Mon March 16, 2015
Shots - Health News

Clues To Autism, Schizophrenia Emerge From Cerebellum Research

Originally published on Tue March 17, 2015 4:27 pm

Jonathan Keleher talks with a colleague, Rafael Wainhaus, at work. Keleher was born without a cerebellum, but his brain has developed work-arounds for solving problems of balance and abstract thought.
Ellen Webber for NPR

A new understanding of the brain's cerebellum could lead to new treatments for people with problems caused by some strokes, autism and even schizophrenia.

That's because there's growing evidence that symptoms ranging from difficulty with abstract thinking to emotional instability to psychosis all have links to the cerebellum, says Jeremy Schmahmann, a professor of neurology at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital.

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3:08am

Mon March 16, 2015
Shots - Health News

A Man's Incomplete Brain Reveals Cerebellum's Role In Thought And Emotion

Originally published on Wed April 1, 2015 6:40 pm

Jonathan Keleher is one of a handful of people who have lived their entire lives without a cerebellum.
Ellen Webber for NPR

Since his birth 33 years ago, Jonathan Keleher has been living without a cerebellum, a structure that usually contains about half the brain's neurons.

This exceedingly rare condition has left Jonathan with a distinctive way of speaking and a walk that is slightly awkward. He also lacks the balance to ride a bicycle.

But all that hasn't kept him from living on his own, holding down an office job and charming pretty much every person he meets.

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5:24pm

Mon March 9, 2015
Shots - Health News

Mad Cow Research Hints At Ways To Halt Alzheimer's, Parkinson's

Originally published on Tue March 10, 2015 9:18 am

Prion protein can be infectious, spreading from cell to cell in the brain. Here four nerve cells in a mouse illustrate how infectious prion protein moves within cells along neurites — wire-like connections the nerve cells use for communicating with adjacent cells.
Science Source

Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ravage the brain in very different ways. But they have at least one thing in common, says Corinne Lasmezas, a neuroscientist and professor at Scripps Research Institute, in Jupiter, Fla. Each spreads from brain cell to brain cell like an infection.

"So if we could block this [process], that might prevent the diseases," Lasmezas says.

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