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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Shots - Health News
12:27 am
Mon August 11, 2014

Where We Learn That Artificial Eyes Really Aren't Round At All

A prosthetic eye is a work of art custom-crafted for an individual.
Rebecca Davis NPR

Originally published on Tue August 12, 2014 12:49 pm

Almost every time reporters go out on assignment, they run across something unexpected that they just can't fit into the story they're working on.

When science correspondent Joe Palca and producer Rebecca Davis were in Boston reporting on a boy with a rare form of cancer, they found themselves in the office of Jahrling Ocular Prosthetics, a business dedicated to making artificial eyes.

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Joe's Big Idea
11:03 am
Thu August 7, 2014

Transformer Paper Turns Itself Into A Robot. Cool!

This little guy changes from flat sheet of paper to critter in about four minutes.
Seth Kroll/Wyss Institute

Originally published on Thu August 28, 2014 3:43 pm

Every so often, a scientific paper just begs for a sexy headline.

Consider this study in the current issue of Science: "A Method for Building Self-folding Machines." A bit bland, you'll no doubt agree. A Real-Life, Origami-Inspired Transformer is how the journal's public affairs department referred to it. Now that's more like it.

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Space
5:35 am
Sat July 26, 2014

Close Encounters Of The Radio Kind? Mystery Bursts Baffle Astronomers

Scientists say a brief burst of radio activity has been detected at the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. This new report resembles previous activity detected in Australia, which has scientist debating possible causes, including solar flares, blitzars, or something even more mysterious.
Brian Negin iStockphoto

Originally published on Mon July 28, 2014 5:50 am

Astronomers have a mystery on their hands. Two large radio telescopes, on opposite sides of the planet, have detected very brief, very powerful bursts of radio waves.

Right now, astronomers have no idea what's causing these bursts or where they're coming from. And nothing has been ruled out at the moment — not even the kind of outrageous claims you'd expect to see in tabloid headlines.

Australian Recordings Inspire Curiosity And Doubt

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Space
1:45 am
Tue July 22, 2014

Rosetta Spacecraft Readies For Rendezvous With Comet

Originally published on Mon July 28, 2014 5:58 am

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

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

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Science
1:30 pm
Fri June 27, 2014

If They Want To Make Anything, Proteins Must Know How To Fold

Originally published on Wed September 3, 2014 1:26 pm

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

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Events unfold. Plots unfold. And this summer, NPR science correspondent Joe Palca has been telling us how science unfolds. It's series we're creatively calling Unfolding Science.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEME SONG)

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Shots - Health News
1:20 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

A CRISPR Way To Fix Faulty Genes

The CRISPR enzyme (green and red) binds to a stretch of double-stranded DNA (purple and red), preparing to snip out the faulty part.
Illustration courtesy of Jennifer Doudna/UC Berkeley

Originally published on Wed October 8, 2014 1:29 pm

Scientists from many areas of biology are flocking to a technique that allows them to work inside cells, making changes in specific genes far faster — and for far less money — than ever before.

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Shots - Health News
2:22 am
Sat May 31, 2014

Phone App Might Predict Manic Episodes In Bipolar Disorder

Manic, sad, up, down. Your voice may reveal mood shifts.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Mon June 2, 2014 5:31 am

There are smartphone apps for monitoring your diet, your drugs, even your heart. And now a Michigan psychiatrist is developing an app he hopes doctors will someday use to predict when a manic episode is imminent in patients with bipolar disorder.

People with the disorder alternate between crushing depression and wild manic episodes that come with the dangerous mix of uncontrollable energy and impaired judgment.

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Humans
2:00 pm
Sun May 18, 2014

The First American Teenager, Millennia-Old And Underwater

Originally published on Sun May 18, 2014 3:28 pm

Transcript

TESS VIGELAND, HOST:

From the studios of NPR West in Culver City, California it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'M Tess Vigeland. Let us contemplate the American teenage girl, perhaps the very first one. Apparently, there's been some scientific debate about who she is and whether she hails from the same gene sequence as what we think of as the first Americans, American Indians. And when I say gene sequence, we're not talking about Skinnies from Urban Outfitters. NPR's science correspondent Joe Palca has the story of a very old American teenage identity crisis.

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Shots - Health News
12:33 am
Wed May 7, 2014

Faith Drives A Father To Create A Test For Childhood Cancer

Elizabeth, Samuel, Bryan and Noah Shaw amid Texas bluebonnets on Easter Sunday. Samuel was conceived with in vitro fertilization so he would not suffer from the hereditary cancer that afflicted Noah.
Courtesy of Elizabeth Shaw

Originally published on Tue May 13, 2014 10:32 am

When Bryan and Elizabeth Shaw learned that their son Noah had a potentially deadly eye cancer, like a lot of people, they turned to their religious faith to help sustain them. But faith is also impelling Bryan Shaw to create software to detect eye cancer in children as soon after birth as possible.

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Shots - Health News
12:37 am
Tue May 6, 2014

Chemist Turns Software Developer After Son's Cancer Diagnosis

Noah Shaw, now 5, shows off his Texas roots at a recent birthday party.
Courtesy of Bryan Shaw

Originally published on Tue May 13, 2014 10:34 am

A scientist's ambitious plan to create an early detection system for eye cancer using people's home cameras is coming along.

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