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.

Pregnant women hear a lot about things they should avoid: alcohol, tobacco, chemical exposures, stress. All of those have the potential to affect a developing fetus. And now scientists are beginning to understand why.

One important factor, they say, is something called epigenetics, which involves the mechanisms that turn individual genes on and off in a cell.

For several weeks now, two unmanned spy planes have been flying over the Atlantic on an unusual mission: gathering intelligence about tropical storms and hurricanes.

The two Global Hawk drones are a central part of NASA's five-year HS3 (Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel) Mission investigating why certain weather patterns become hurricanes, and why some hurricanes grow into monster storms.

A brain that trains can stay in the fast lane. That's the message of a study showing that playing a brain training video game for a month can rejuvenate the multitasking abilities of people in their 60s, 70s and 80s.

"After training, they improved their multitasking beyond the level of 20-year-olds," says Adam Gazzaley, one of the study's authors and a brain scientist at the University of California, San Francisco.

If you're finding it harder to remember where you put the car keys, the culprit could be a brain protein with a name that's easy to forget: RbAp48.

A shortage of this protein appears to impair our ability to remember things as we age, researchers report in the current issue of Science Translational Medicine. And boosting levels of RbAP48 in aging brains can reverse memory loss, at least in mice, they say.

Research intended to help people with muscle-wasting diseases could be about to launch a new era in performance-enhancing drugs.

The research has produced several muscle-building drugs now being tested in people with medical problems, including muscular dystrophy, cancer and kidney disease. The drugs all work by blocking a substance called myostatin that the body normally produces to keep muscles from getting too big.

A gene that affects the brain's dopamine system appears to have influenced mothers' behavior during a recent economic downturn, researchers say.

At the beginning of the recession that began in 2007, mothers with the "sensitive" version of a gene called DRD2 became more likely to strike or scream at their children, the researchers say. Mothers with the other "insensitive" version of the gene didn't change their behavior.

Scientists and lawyers are scheduled to debate the safety of certain "BPA-free" plastics this week in a U.S. District Court in Austin, Texas.

At issue is whether a line of plastic resins marketed by Eastman Chemical contains chemicals that can act like the hormone estrogen, and perhaps cause health problems.

The U.S. is ready for tornadoes, but not tsunamis.

That's the conclusion of a panel of scientists who spoke this week on "mega-disasters" at the American Geophysical Union's science policy meeting in Washington, D.C.

The nation has done a good job preparing for natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes, which occur frequently but usually produce limited damage and relatively few casualties, the panelists said. But government officials are just beginning to develop plans for events like a major tsunami or a large asteroid hurtling toward a populated area.

The human voice appears to trigger pleasure circuits in the brains of typical kids, but not children with autism, a Stanford University team reports. The finding could explain why many children with autism seem indifferent to spoken words.

Barton Holmes was 16 months old when he had his first seizure. "He was convulsing and his eyes were rolling in the back of his head," his mother, Catherine McEaddy Holmes, says. "His lips were blue. I thought he was dying."

The seizure ended in less than a minute. And by the time an ambulance arrived, Barton was back to his old self. Even so, doctors at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where the family lives, kept him overnight while they tried, without success, to figure out what had caused the seizure.

Unusually warm ocean temperatures and favorable wind patterns mean the Atlantic is likely to see "an active or extremely active" hurricane season this year, say officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The agency expects between seven and 11 hurricanes and as many as 20 named storms during the 2013 season, which runs from June 1 through November.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Joining us now is NPR science correspondent Jon Hamilton who has done a lot of reporting on tornadoes before. And, Jon, talk a bit about the path of this tornado and the destruction that it's brought.

When the American Psychiatric Association releases its new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders -- DSM-5 -- this weekend, lots of journalists and commentators will refer to it as "psychiatry's bible."

That's a term that makes the manual's authors and other mental experts cringe.

The American Psychiatric Association is about to release an updated version of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The DSM helps mental health professionals decide who has problems such as depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

Psychiatry's new manual, DSM-5, has been nearly 20 years in the making. During that time, scientists have learned a lot about the brain. Yet despite some tweaks to categories such as autism and mood disorders, DSM-5 is remarkably similar to the version issued in 1994.

A study of genetically identical mice is providing some hints about humans. How can one identical twin be a wallflower while the other is the life of the party?

The study of 40 young mice found that their behavior grew increasingly different over three months, even though the mice shared the same genes and lived in the same five-level cage, researchers report Thursday in the journal Science.

This is a story about a duck. More precisely, it's a story about what your brain just did when you read the word "duck."

Chances are, your brain created an image of a web-footed waterfowl. It also may have recalled the sound of quacking or the feel of feathers. And new research suggests that these mental simulations are essential to understanding language.

Mutations on a single gene appear to increase the risk for both an unusual sleep disorder and migraines, a team reports in Science Translational Medicine.

The finding could help explain the links between sleep problems and migraines. It also should make it easier to find new drugs to treat migraines, researchers say.

And for one member of the research team, Emily Bates, the discovery represents a personal victory.

When Superstorm Sandy inundated lower Manhattan last year, thousands of lab animals drowned and many scientists lost months or even years of work. One of those scientists is Gordon Fishell, a brain researcher at New York University.

Just hours before Sandy reached New York, Fishell says, he began to worry that animals housed in a basement below his lab were in danger. "I realized Hurricane Sandy and high tide were going to coincide at Battery Park, which is right where my lab is," he says.

A rat with some human genes could provide a better way to test Alzheimer's drugs.

The genetically modified rat is the first rodent model to exhibit the full range of brain changes found in Alzheimer's, researchers report in The Journal of Neuroscience.

One day in the fall of 2010, composer Richard Einhorn woke up and realized there was something horribly wrong with his hearing.

"There was an enormous, violent buzzing in my ears," he says. "And I realized that my right ear had gone completely deaf."

President Obama has announced an ambitious plan to explore the mysteries of the human brain.

In a speech Tuesday, Obama said he will ask Congress for $100 million in 2014 to "better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember." Other goals include finding new treatments for Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury.

A large new government study should reassure parents who are afraid that kids are getting autism because they receive too many vaccines too early in life.

The study, by researchers at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, found no connection between the number of vaccines a child received and his or her risk of autism spectrum disorder. It also found that even though kids are getting more vaccines these days, those vaccines contain many fewer of the substances that provoke an immune response.

Loneliness hurts, but social isolation can kill you. That's the conclusion of a study of more than 6,500 people in the U.K.

The study, by a team at University College London, comes after decades of research showing that both loneliness and infrequent contact with friends and family can, independently, shorten a person's life. The scientists expected to find that the combination of these two risk factors would be especially dangerous.

As far back as he can remember, George McCann lived in fear. When he was asleep he would have horrific nightmares filled with violent images. When he was awake, he often felt threatened by people, including members of his own family. And when he felt threatened, he would become aggressive, even violent.

George spent his childhood certain that something very bad was going to happen. And when he was 12, it did. His unrelenting fears led to a violent outburst at school. And George landed in a psychiatric hospital.

Alzheimer's disease doesn't just steal memories. It takes lives.

The disease is now the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., and figures released Tuesday by the Alzheimer's Association show that deaths from the disease increased by 68 percent between 2000 and 2010.

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