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. In addition to his science reporting, Palca occasionally fills in as guest host on Talk of the Nation Science Friday.

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 for Science 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.

Palca lives in Washington, D.C, with his wife and two sons.

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Research News
2:47 pm
Thu July 28, 2011

Shining Light (Literally) On The Workings Of Cells

Science/AAAS

Scientists would like to know more about how cells work. But seeing what's happening inside a cell isn't easy. It's dark in there, and even if you shine a light, many of the critical chemical reactions are invisible.

Now, a team of researchers has found a way to reveal the invisible by attaching what amounts to a reflective tag to a chemical called RNA, a close relative of DNA. Molecules made of RNA have a variety of important jobs inside cells and frequently, doing those jobs requires the RNA to shuttle from one part of the cell to another.

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Research News
12:01 am
Fri July 22, 2011

Poor Peer Review Cited In Retracted DNA Study

iStockphoto.com

Scientists are admitting that a scientific finding that seemed too good to be true was too good to be true. The researchers are retracting a study that claimed you could use genetic tools to predict people's likelihood of living to 100.

Paola Sebastiani and Thomas Perls are both at Boston University. Perls studies centenarians — people who live to be 100 or more. He's not a geneticist, but he is convinced that genes play an important role in how long someone will live, because longevity clearly runs in families. So Perls teamed up with geneticist Sebastiani.

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Humans
12:01 am
Thu July 21, 2011

Genome Maps May Spot Disease In African Americans

iStockphoto.com

Two independent teams of researchers have come up with the most accurate genetic maps ever made — a feat that should make the search for genes associated with diseases easier.

To understand why an accurate genetic map is useful, imagine you are trying to locate a house in Topeka, Kan., but the only map you have is one of the Interstate Highway System. You could probably find Topeka, but finding the specific house you want would take a lot of trial and error.

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The End Of The Space Shuttle Era
2:36 pm
Mon July 18, 2011

Space Station Ramps Up As Shuttle Winds Down

The International Space Station, seen on Nov. 25, 2009, after space shuttle Atlantis undocked. Despite an end to the space shuttle program, scientific work is just getting into full gear.
NASA

Imagine you own a small factory, and you learn that your main supplier is going out of business. What do you do? You put on a brave face for employees and investors, and scramble to find alternatives.

That's pretty much where managers of the International Space Station find themselves.

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The End Of The Space Shuttle Era
3:59 pm
Fri July 15, 2011

A New Frontier In Space Travel: The Law

The Virgin Galactic VSS Enterprise spacecraft is seen before its first public landing during the Spaceport America runway dedication ceremony near Las Cruces, N.M., on Oct. 22. Virgin Galactic is one of a handful of private companies that plan to fly paying customers into space.
Mark Ralston AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri July 15, 2011 4:42 pm

When space shuttle Atlantis returns to Earth this week from its final flight, NASA will be out of the business of launching humans into space for the foreseeable future.

But soon, there could be more American space travelers than ever. That's because several companies are developing spacecraft that will take anyone into space who wants to go — provided they can pay for the ride.

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