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.

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.

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.

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 mice.

There's growing evidence that a physical injury to the brain can make people susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder.

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.

People born without sight appear to solve math problems using visual areas of the brain.

A functional MRI study of 17 people blind since birth found that areas of visual cortex became active when the participants were asked to solve algebra problems, a team from Johns Hopkins reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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.

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."

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."

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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 officer in the armed forces. And they were known simply as the Gray Team.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.