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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.

Forget where you just left your car keys? A magnetic pulse might help you remember. Some dormant memories can be revived by delivering a pulse of magnetic energy to the right brain cells, researchers report Thursday in the journal Science. The finding is part of a study that suggests the brain's "working memory" system is far less volatile than scientists once thought. "This changes how we think about the structure of working memory and the processes that support it," says Nathan...

A nonprofit research group is giving scientists a new way to study the secret lives of human cells. On Wednesday, the Allen Institute for Cell Science provided access to a collection of living stem cells that have been genetically altered to make internal structures like the nucleus and mitochondria glow. "What makes these cells special is that they are normal, healthy cells that we can spy on and see what the cell does when it's left alone," says Susanne Rafelski, director of assay...

You may not remember what you were doing a few minutes ago. But your dog probably does. A study of 17 dogs found they could remember and imitate their owners' actions up to an hour later. The results, published Wednesday in Current Biology, suggest that dogs can remember and relive an experience much the way people do. That's probably not a big surprise to people who own dogs, says Claudia Fugazza , an author of the study and an animal behavior researcher at Eotvos Lorand University...

There's new evidence that excessive screen time early in life can change the circuits in a growing brain. Scientists disagree, though, about whether those changes are helpful, or just cause problems. Both views emerged during the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego this week. The debate centered on a study of young mice exposed to six hours daily of a sound and light show reminiscent of a video game. The mice showed "dramatic changes everywhere in the brain," said Jan-Marino Ramirez...

Some tiny clusters of brain cells grown in a lab dish are making big news at this week's Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego. Known as "minibrains," these rudimentary networks of cells are small enough to fit on the head of a pin, but already are providing researchers with insights into everything from early brain development to Down syndrome, Alzheimer's and Zika. At a Sunday press conference at the neuroscience meeting, researchers said minibrains are helping them figure out how...

Twelve years ago, a car wreck took away Nathan Copeland's ability to control his hands or sense what his fingers were touching. A few months ago, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center gave Copeland a new way to reach out and feel the world around him. It's a mind-controlled robotic arm that has pressure sensors in each fingertip that send signals directly to Copeland's brain. The scientists published details of their work online Thursday...

Want to be smarter? More focused? Free of memory problems as you age? If so, don't count on brain games to help you. That's the conclusion of an exhaustive evaluation of the scientific literature on brain training games and programs. It was published Monday in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest. "It's disappointing that the evidence isn't stronger," says Daniel Simons , an author of the article and a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana...

What rats can remember may help people who forget. Researchers are reporting evidence that rats possess "episodic memories," the kind of memories that allow us to go back in time and recall specific events. These memories are among the first to disappear in people who develop Alzheimer's disease. The finding, which appears Thursday in Current Biology , suggests that rats could offer a better way to test potential drugs for Alzheimer's. Right now, most of these drugs are tested in...

There's growing evidence that a physical injury to the brain can make people susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder. Studies of troops who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have found that service members who have suffered a concussion or mild traumatic brain injury are far more likely to develop PTSD , a condition that can cause flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety for years after a traumatic event. And research on both people and animals suggests the reason is that a brain injury...

A rare genetic disorder is helping scientists understand our mysterious ability to sense where we are in space, known as proprioception. This "sixth sense" is what dancers and gymnasts rely on to tell them the exact position of their body and limbs at every moment. It also tells them how much force each muscle is exerting. "The most beautiful demonstration of proprioception in action is Simone Biles when she is spinning and somersaulting through the air," says Carsten Bonnemann , a...

An experimental drug dramatically reduced the toxic plaques found in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease, a team reports in the journal Nature . Results from a small number of patients who received a high dose of the drug, called aducanumab , hint that it may also be able to slow the loss of memory and thinking. "If that hint of a clinical benefit is confirmed, it would be a game changer in the fight against Alzheimer's disease," says Dr. Eric Reiman , executive director...

Forget Hawaii or Fiji. The spot that's really got surfers talking these days is a secluded pond more than 100 miles from the ocean, in California's Central Valley. "It's just an amazing, amazing wave," says Robert "Wingnut" Weaver , a longboarder from Santa Cruz, Calif., and one of just a handful of surfers who have ridden the wave. "It's mind-blowing." But it's not natural. A machine generates these breakers in an experimental wave pool south of Fresno, in Lemoore, Calif. And, unlike natural...

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When tennis star Maria Sharapova admitted in March to having taken the heart drug meldonium , the public got a rare glimpse of a common practice that's often called "legal doping." It involves taking a legal prescription drug that may improve performance, but hasn't been banned by anti-doping authorities. And lots of athletes competing in the Rio Olympics will be taking advantage of this loophole, doping experts say. "If it's not banned, athletes will use it," says Ronald Evans , director of...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST: Today in Your Health, bringing the battlefield into the lab. Last week, we met Kit Parker, a biophysicist who put his academic career on hold to fight in Afghanistan. When Parker returned, he was determined to explain the signature wound of recent wars, an invisible brain injury caused by blast waves from roadside bombs. The military had assumed the damage was purely psychological. Parker had a hunch that blast...

Two studies released at an international Alzheimer's meeting Tuesday suggest doctors may eventually be able to screen people for this form of dementia by testing the ability to identify familiar odors, like smoke, coffee and raspberry. In both studies, people who were in their 60s and older took a standard odor detection test. And in both cases, those who did poorly on the test were more likely to already have — or go on to develop — problems with memory and thinking. "The whole idea is to...

Letting mice watch Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness. At least that's one premise of the Allen Brain Observatory , which launched Wednesday and lets anyone with an Internet connection study a mouse brain as it responds to visual information. "Think of it as a telescope, but a telescope that is looking at the brain," says Christof Koch , chief scientific officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, which created the observatory. The hope is that thousands...

Scientists have created a synthetic stingray that's propelled by living muscle cells and controlled by light, a team reports Thursday in the journal Science . And it should be possible to build an artificial heart using some of the same techniques, the researchers say. "I want to build an artificial heart, but you're not going to go from zero to a whole heart overnight," says Kit Parker , a bioengineer and physicist at Harvard University's Wyss Institute. "This is a training exercise...

Researchers have identified a substance in muscles that helps explain the connection between a fit body and a sharp mind. When muscles work, they release a protein that appears to generate new cells and connections in a part of the brain that is critical to memory, a team reports Thursday in the journal Cell Metabolism. The finding "provides another piece to the puzzle," says Henriette van Praag , an author of the study and an investigator in brain science at the National Institute...

During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military did an about-face on detecting and treating brain injuries caused by explosions. After years of routinely sending blast-exposed troops back into combat, the military implemented a system that requires screening and treatment for traumatic brain injury. The change came about in large part because of a remarkable campaign by an elite team of military officers who were also doctors and scientists. They worked for the highest-ranking...

Editor's note: This longform journalism project chronicles a soldier-scientist's quest to figure out how battlefield explosions injure brains. It was first published on Shots in June. The project includes a second story on how the U.S. military changed its response to traumatic brain injury based on this discovery. The first time Kit Parker's phone rang, everything seemed fine. It was January 2006, and Parker's old Army buddy Chris Moroski was calling to say hi. Parker and Moroski...

People who sustain a concussion or a more severe traumatic brain injury are likely to have sleep problems that continue for at least a year and a half. A study of 31 patients with this sort of brain injury found that 18 months afterward, they were still getting, on average, an hour more sleep each night than similar healthy people were getting. And despite the extra sleep, 67 percent showed signs of excessive daytime sleepiness. Only 19 percent of healthy people had that problem. Surprisingly...

When you sleep in unfamiliar surroundings, only half your brain is getting a good night's rest. "The left side seems to be more awake than the right side," says Yuka Sasaki , an associate professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown University. The finding, reported Thursday in the journal Current Biology , helps explain why people tend to feel tired after sleeping in a new place. And it suggests people have something in common with birds and sea mammals,...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60fAjaRfwnU Ian Burkhart, now 24, was paralyzed in 2010 after diving into a wave in shallow water. The accident left him with some arm movement but no use of his hands. Then, about two years ago, scientists in Ohio equipped Burkhart with a system that allowed him to control his right wrist and hand with his thoughts. "The first time moving my hand — that was really just like that flicker of hope," Burkhart told reporters during a media briefing Tuesday. The...

First, Alzheimer's takes a person's memory. Then it takes their family's money. That's the central finding of a report published Wednesday by the Alzheimer's Association on the financial burden friends and families bear when they care for someone with dementia. "What we found was really startling," says Beth Kallmyer , vice president of constituent services for the organization. "The cost of paying for care was putting people in a situation where they had to make really difficult choices...

Given recent advances in teleportation, it's reassuring to know that the human brain's navigation system appears to work just fine when we're beamed from place to place. People who experienced virtual teleportation in a video game were able to mentally navigate to known destinations without relying on visual information or perceived motion, according to a study published Thursday by the journal Neuron . And during "teleportation," their brains produced a distinctive electrical signal...

There's growing evidence that a lack of sleep can leave the brain vulnerable to Alzheimer's disease. "Changes in sleep habits may actually be setting the stage" for dementia, says Jeffrey Iliff , a brain scientist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. The brain appears to clear out toxins linked to Alzheimer's during sleep, Iliff explains. And, at least among research animals that don't get enough solid shut-eye, those toxins can build up and damage the brain. Iliff and other...

Taking antidepressants during the second or third trimester of pregnancy may increase the risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder, according to a study of Canadian mothers and children published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics. But scientists not involved in the research say the results are hard to interpret and don't settle the long-running debate about whether expectant mothers with depression should take antidepressants. "This study doesn't answer the question," says Bryan...

A look at the brain's wiring can often reveal whether a person has trouble staying focused, and even whether he or she has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD. A team led by researchers at Yale University reports that they were able to identify many children and adolescents with ADHD by studying data on the strength of certain connections in their brains. "There's an intrinsic signature," says Monica Rosenberg , a graduate student and lead author of the study in Nature...

Patterns of gene expression in human and mouse brains suggest that cells known as glial cells may have helped us evolve brains that can acquire language and solve complex problems. Scientists have been dissecting human brains for centuries. But nobody can explain precisely what allows people to use language, solve problems or tell jokes, says Ed Lein , an investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. "Clearly we have a much bigger behavioral repertoire and cognitive...

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