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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5:11am

Sun August 5, 2012
Joe's Big Idea

Scientists Look To Martian Rocks For History Of Life

Originally published on Sun August 5, 2012 10:41 am

Mmm, nice rock! This rover's looking for secrets to the history of life on Mars.
Photo Illustration Courtesy NASA

NASA has sent rovers to explore Mars before. But three words explain what makes this latest mission to Mars so different: location, location, location.

The rover Curiosity is slated to land late Sunday in Gale Crater, near the base of a 3-mile-high mountain with layers like the Grand Canyon. Scientists think those rocks could harbor secrets about the history of water — and life — on the Red Planet.

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6:32am

Sat August 4, 2012
Space

Anxiety Hovers Over Rover's Mars Landing

Originally published on Sun August 5, 2012 10:43 am

Transcript

SUSAN STAMBERG, HOST:

These are tense times for scientists and engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. Late Sunday night Pacific Time, they'll learn if nearly a decade of hard work will result in a priceless scientific laboratory landing safely on Mars or if the rover known as Curiosity will turn into a useless pile of junk. Everything depends on what happens during the seven minutes of terror, the time it takes the probe to go from the top of the Martian atmosphere to the planet's surface.

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4:05am

Fri August 3, 2012
Joe's Big Idea

Crazy Smart: When A Rocker Designs A Mars Lander

Originally published on Fri August 3, 2012 5:43 pm

NASA engineer Adam Steltzner led the team that designed a crazy new approach to landing on Mars.
Rachael Porter for NPR

It's called the seven minutes of terror. In just seven minutes, NASA's latest mission to Mars, a new six-wheeled rover called Curiosity, must go from 13,000 mph as it enters the Martian atmosphere to a dead stop on the surface.

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3:55am

Wed July 25, 2012
Joe's Big Idea

Summer Science: Clothes Keep You Cool, More Or Less

Originally published on Wed July 25, 2012 9:05 am

United States runner Kam Conley sheds layers to train for the Olympics in England on Monday. Less clothing means more evaporation, keeping athletes cooler.
Hussein Malla AP

The cool weather in London is good news for the Olympic athletes because their bodies won't need to put as much energy into cooling off.

But most of us aren't lucky enough to be headed to London, and we could use some help keeping cool.

When you get hot you sweat — but it's not enough to just sweat. To cool off, you need that sweat to evaporate. It's evaporation that drains the heat from your body.

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5:48am

Tue July 24, 2012
Remembrances

The Space Trip That Made Sally Ride A Folk Hero

Originally published on Wed July 25, 2012 9:30 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We're remembering this morning the first American woman to go into space: Sally Ride. She died yesterday in San Diego. Ride made her historic trip into space in 1983 aboard the space shuttle Challenger, a trip that made her an instant folk hero. NPR's Joe Palca has our report.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Sally Ride was born on May 26th, 1951. She grew up in the San Fernando Valley, just outside Los Angeles, where she went to Westlake High School.

SUSAN OKIE: She prided herself on being an underachiever.

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2:20am

Wed July 11, 2012
The Salt

Cool Down With A Hot Drink? It's Not As Crazy As You Think

Originally published on Wed July 11, 2012 8:47 pm

Joe Palca serves up some hot tea on a very hot day at Teaism in Washington, D.C., last week.
Maggie Starbard NPR

Hot tea on a hot day? Not for me, thank you. Not my idea of how to cool down.

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9:51am

Mon July 9, 2012
Science

Tell the World Your Big Idea With NPR's 'What's Your Big Idea?' Video Contest

Originally published on Sun August 19, 2012 2:22 pm

NPR

I have a simple question for you: Do you have a good idea? Something that could change the world?

Enter your big idea in NPR's "What's Your Big Idea?" video contest from July 9 to Aug. 12, 2012, and you could win the chance to get advice on making your big idea a reality from a big name in science and technology. And even if you don't win that grand prize, we'll showcase your video on NPR's YouTube channel and on Facebook.

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2:30am

Tue July 3, 2012
Science

When Ice Cream Attacks: The Mystery Of Brain Freeze

Originally published on Tue July 3, 2012 1:12 pm

NPR interns (from left) Angela Wong and Kevin Uhrmacher participate in an experiment to induce brain freeze.
Benjamin Morris NPR

If it hasn't happened to you, count yourself as lucky. For many people, eating ice cream or drinking an icy drink too fast can produce a really painful headache. It usually hits in the front of the brain, behind the forehead.

The technical name for this phenomenon is cold-stimulus headache, but people also refer to it as "ice cream headache" or "brain freeze."

The good news is that brain freeze is easy to prevent — just eat more slowly. The other bit of good news is these headaches don't last very long — a minute at the outside.

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4:08am

Tue June 12, 2012
Science

Summer Science: The Perfectly Toasted Marshmallow

Originally published on Tue June 12, 2012 7:18 am

Joe Palca's perfectly toasted marshmallow.
Maggie Starbard NPR

It's the epic quest of campers everywhere: How do you get the perfectly toasted marshmallow? In our inaugural installment of NPR's Summer Science series, we gave some guidance on the first key ingredient: how to build the campfire. (Later this summer, we'll attempt to answer the vexing question of how to stave off brain freeze.)

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2:01am

Fri June 8, 2012
Science

'Eliminate Dengue' Team Has A Deep (Lab) Bench

Originally published on Mon June 11, 2012 2:03 pm

Scott O'Neill is leading a global effort to rid the world of dengue fever. "Finding a way to manage a group of people who are all quite individualistic and having them work together towards this common goal is critical," he says.
Greg Ford

Second of a two-part series. Read Part 1

Every profession has its symbols of success. For opera singers, it's performing at La Scala or the Met. For mountain climbers it's making it to the top of Everest. For scientists, if you get two papers published in the same issue of a prestigious journal like Nature, you're hot.

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1:52am

Thu June 7, 2012
Science

A Scientist's 20-Year Quest To Defeat Dengue Fever

Originally published on Fri July 6, 2012 2:26 pm

Scott O'Neill wants to rid the world of dengue fever by infecting mosquitoes with bacteria so they can't carry the virus that causes the disease.
Benjamin Arthur for NPR

First of a two-part series

This summer, my big idea is to explore the big ideas of science. Instead of just reporting science as results — the stuff that's published in scientific journals and covered as news — I want to take you inside the world of science. I hope I'll make it easier to understand how science works, and just how cool the process of discovery and innovation really is.

A lot of science involves failure, but there are also the brilliant successes, successes that can lead to new inventions, new tools, new drugs — things that can change the world

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1:42am

Mon June 4, 2012
Science

Summer Science: How To Build A Campfire

Originally published on Mon June 4, 2012 10:10 am

iStockphoto.com

Summer living is supposed to be easy — school is out, the days are long, the traffic eases. But it's not all inner tubes and lemonade: Summer can throw us some curveballs, too. How can I avoid sunburn? What can I do to stave off that brain freeze? Why do my s'mores always burn?

Fear not; NPR is here to help. As part of our new Summer Science series, we'll turn to science to tackle these vexing questions, starting with how to build the perfect campfire.

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2:04am

Wed April 18, 2012
Humans

Can You Think Your Way To That Hole-In-One?

Originally published on Wed April 18, 2012 6:50 am

Bo Van Pelt celebrates his hole-in-one during the final round of the Masters on April 8. New research suggests that golfers may be able to improve their games by believing the hole they're aiming for is larger than it really is.
Andrew Redington Getty Images

Psychologists at Purdue University have come up with an interesting twist on the old notion of the power of positive thinking. Call it the power of positive perception: They've shown that you may be able to improve your golf game by believing the hole you're aiming for is larger than it really is.

Jessica Witt, who studies how perception and performance are related, decided to look at golf — specifically, how the appearance of the hole changes depending on whether you're playing well or poorly.

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2:05am

Tue April 3, 2012
Space

Earth Has Just One Moon, Right? Think Again

Originally published on Wed April 4, 2012 1:01 pm

The last lunar eclipse of 2011 as seen from the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles on Dec 10, 2011.
Frederic J. Brown AFP/Getty Images

Everybody knows that there's just one moon orbiting the Earth. But a new study by an international team of astronomers concludes that everybody is dead wrong about that.

"At any time, there are one or two 1-meter diameter asteroids in orbit around the Earth," says Robert Jedicke, an astronomer at the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii.

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4:09pm

Wed March 21, 2012
Space

Spacecraft's Wild Ride To Mercury Yields Surprises

Originally published on Wed December 12, 2012 5:40 pm

The Messenger spacecraft is depicted over the Calvino Crater on Mercury in this enhanced-color image of the planet's surface.
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

There's a small spacecraft called Messenger that's been orbiting the planet Mercury for a year. Today, at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, astronomers revealed what they've learned about the innermost planet in our solar system, and some of the new knowledge is puzzling.

Maria Zuber, a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studied a large crater 900 miles across called Caloris.

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