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.

Pages

Shots - Health News
4:30 pm
Wed March 6, 2013

Hear That? In A Din Of Voices, Our Brains Can Tune In To One

Scientists say that understanding how the cocktail party effect works could help people who have trouble deciphering sounds in a noisy environment. Guests make it look easy at a Dolce and Gabbana Lounge party in London in 2010.
Paul Jeffers AP

Originally published on Thu March 7, 2013 11:49 am

Scientists are beginning to understand how people tune in to a single voice in a crowded, noisy room.

This ability, known as the "cocktail party effect," appears to rely on areas of the brain that have completely filtered out unwanted sounds, researchers report in the journal Neuron. So when a person decides to focus on a particular speaker, other speakers "have no representation in those [brain] areas," says Elana Zion Golumbic of Columbia University.

Read more
The Salt
4:50 pm
Fri March 1, 2013

How Did Our Brains Evolve To Equate Food With Love?

Bonobos share a piece of fruit at the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Jingzhi Tan Duke University

Originally published on Tue March 5, 2013 12:12 pm

If food is love, Americans must love their kids a lot. About one-third of children and adolescents in the U.S. are overweight or obese.

And our emotional response to food may be one of the reasons so many kids eat so much, according to a poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. The poll found that in more than a quarter of families, food is considered an important way to show affection.

Read more
Shots - Health News
4:31 pm
Tue February 12, 2013

Folic Acid For Pregnant Mothers Cuts Kids' Autism Risk

Despite public health campaigns urging women in the U.S. to take folic acid, many are still not taking the supplements when they become pregnant.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Mon February 25, 2013 1:19 pm

A common vitamin supplement appears to dramatically reduce a woman's risk of having a child with autism.

A study of more than 85,000 women in Norway found that those who started taking folic acid before getting pregnant were about 40 percent less likely to have a child who developed the disorder, researchers reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Read more
Shots - Health News
3:31 am
Mon February 4, 2013

Shortage Of Brain Tissue Hinders Autism Research

Jonathan Mitchell is autistic and wants to donate his brain to science when he dies.
David Gilkey NPR

Originally published on Tue February 5, 2013 8:39 am

Research on autism is being hobbled by a shortage of brain tissue.

The brain tissue comes from people with autism who have died, and it has allowed researchers to make key discoveries about how the disorder affects brain development.

Read more
Shots - Health News
4:28 pm
Wed January 16, 2013

Mental Health Gun Laws Unlikely To Reduce Shootings

State Senator Jeff Klein (L-R), Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy and Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins congratulate New York Governor Andrew Cuomo after he signed the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act on Tuesday.
Hans Pennink Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Thu January 17, 2013 11:11 am

States aren't likely to prevent many shootings by requiring mental health professionals to report potentially violent patients, psychiatrists and psychologists say.

Read more
Shots - Health News
2:16 pm
Wed January 9, 2013

Alzheimer's Drug Dials Back Deafness In Mice

If you know some mice that took This Is Spinal Tap too literally, they might want to know about an experiment to restore hearing with a failed Alzheimer's drug.
The Kobal Collection

Originally published on Mon April 8, 2013 8:34 am

If you've spent years CRANKING YOUR MUSIC UP TO 11, this item's for you.

A drug developed for Alzheimer's disease can partially reverse hearing loss caused by exposure to extremely loud sounds, an international team reports in the journal Neuron.

Before you go back to rocking the house with your Van Halen collection, though, consider that the drug has only been tried in mice so far. And it has never been approved for human use.

Read more
Animals
4:49 pm
Wed October 24, 2012

In Animal Kingdom, Voting Of A Different Sort Reigns

A school of manini fish passes over a coral reef at Hanauma Bay in 2005, in Honolulu. Researchers say schooling behavior like the kind seen in fish helps groups of animals make better decisions than any one member of the group could.
Donald Miralle Getty Images

Originally published on Thu October 25, 2012 9:57 am

As part of NPR's coverage of this year's presidential election, All Things Considered asked three science reporters to weigh in on the race. The result is a three-part series on the science of leadership. In Part 1, Alix Spiegel looked at the personalities of American presidents.

Voters could learn some things about choosing a leader from a fish. Or a chimp. Or an elephant.

Read more
NPR Story
5:37 am
Mon October 22, 2012

Research Highlights Strengths Of Adolescent Brain

Originally published on Mon October 22, 2012 8:11 am

Adolescent brains have gotten a bad rap, according to neuroscientists. It's true that teenage brains can be impulsive, scientists reported at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in New Orleans. But adolescent brains are also vulnerable, dynamic and highly responsive to positive feedback.

Shots - Health News
6:31 pm
Wed October 17, 2012

Treatment For Alzheimer's Should Start Years Before Disease Sets In

Alexis McKenzie, executive director of the Methodist Home of the District of Columbia Forest Side, an Alzheimer's assisted-living facility, puts her hand on the arm of resident Catherine Peake.
Charles Dharapak AP

Originally published on Thu October 18, 2012 11:12 am

Treatment for Alzheimer's probably needs to begin years or even decades before symptoms of the disease start to appear, scientists reported at this week's Society for Neuroscience meeting in New Orleans.

"By the time an Alzheimer's patient is diagnosed even with mild or moderate Alzheimer's there is very, very extensive neuron death," said John Morrison of Mount Sinai Medical School in New York. "And the neurons that die are precisely those neurons that allow you to navigate the world and make sense of the world."

Read more
Shots - Health News
10:38 am
Tue October 16, 2012

Teenage Brains Are Malleable And Vulnerable, Researchers Say

Brain scans are showing researchers why it's important to treat problems like depression in teens.
iStockphoto.com

Adolescent brains have gotten a bad rap, according to neuroscientists.

It's true that teenage brains can be impulsive, scientists reported at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in New Orleans. But adolescent brains are also vulnerable, dynamic and highly responsive to positive feedback, they say.

Read more
Shots - Health Blog
12:05 pm
Mon October 15, 2012

Brain Scientists Uncover New Links Between Stress And Depression

Scientists say they're learning more about how to keep stress from damaging mental health.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Mon October 15, 2012 1:10 pm

Even extreme stress doesn't have to get you down.

That's the message from brain scientists studying the relationship between stress and problems such as depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Researchers at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in New Orleans presented studies showing how stress caused by everything from battlefield trauma to bullying can alter brain circuitry in ways that have long-term effects on mental health.

Read more
Shots - Health Blog
4:52 pm
Thu October 4, 2012

Ketamine Relieves Depression By Restoring Brain Connections

A rat neuron before (top) and after (bottom) ketamine treatment. The increased number of orange nodes are restored connections in the rat's brain.
Ronald Duman/Yale University

Originally published on Thu October 4, 2012 5:12 pm

Scientists say they have figured out how an experimental drug called ketamine is able to relieve major depression in hours instead of weeks.

Researchers from Yale and the National Institute of Mental Health say ketamine seems to cause a burst of new connections to form between nerve cells in parts of the brain involved in emotion and mood.

Read more
Shots - Health Blog
3:19 pm
Mon September 24, 2012

Experimental Drug Is First To Help Kids With Premature Aging Disease

Sam Berns, 15, who has the very rare premature-aging disease progeria, plays the drums in his high school's marching band.
Courtesy of the Progeria Research Foundation

Originally published on Tue September 25, 2012 5:11 pm

Researchers have found the first drug to treat progeria, an extremely rare genetic disease that causes children to age so rapidly that many die in their teens.

The drug, called lonafarnib, is not a cure. But in a study published Monday of 28 children, it reversed changes in blood vessels that usually lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Read more
Shots - Health Blog
3:33 am
Thu September 20, 2012

New Experimental Drug Offers Autism Hope

Andy Tranfaglia, 23, who has Fragile X syndrome, rides a horse with his mother, Katie Clapp.
Katie Clapp

Originally published on Thu September 20, 2012 10:10 am

An experimental drug that helps people who have Fragile X syndrome is raising hopes of a treatment for autism.

The drug, called arbaclofen, made people with Fragile X less likely to avoid social interactions, according to a study in Science Translational Medicine. Researchers suspect it might do the same for people with autism.

Read more
Shots - Health Blog
4:49 pm
Tue September 18, 2012

Link Between BPA And Childhood Obesity Is Unclear

Canned food is a source of BPA exposure, but researchers aren't sure whether it causes childhood obesity. Above, the soup isle at a grocery store in Washington, D.C.
Maggie Starbard NPR

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 8:23 pm

BPA could be making kids fat. Or not.

That's the unsatisfying takeaway from the latest study on bisphenol A — the plastic additive that environmental groups have blamed for everything from ADHD to prostate disease.

Unfortunately, the science behind those allegations isn't so clear. And the new study on obesity in children and teens is no exception.

Read more

Pages