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. He is currently focused on the eponymous series, "Joe's Big Idea." Stories in the series explore the minds and motivations of scientists and inventors.

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 forScience 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.

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Joe's Big Idea
4:31 am
Sat May 16, 2015

'Playing Around With Telescopes' To Explore Secrets Of The Universe

The 200-inch Hale Telescope, a masterpiece of engineering at Caltech's Palomar Observatory, was the world's largest telescope until 1993.
Scott Kardel/Palomar Observatory Courtesy of Palomar Observatory/California Institute of Technology

Originally published on Mon May 18, 2015 11:26 am

Shrinivas Kulkarni, an astronomy and planetary science professor at the California Institute of Technology, is a serious astronomer. But not too serious.

"We astronomers are supposed to say, 'We wonder about the stars and we really want to think about it,' " says Kulkarni — in other words, think deep thoughts. But he says that's not really the way it is.

"Many scientists, I think, secretly are what I call 'boys with toys,' " he says. "I really like playing around with telescopes. It's just not fashionable to admit it."

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The Two-Way
1:29 pm
Wed April 29, 2015

Welcome To The Neighborhood: 2 Super-Earths Discovered

An artist's rendition of the HD 7924 planetary system — just 54 light-years away from Earth — shows newly discovered exoplanets c and d, which join Planet b.
Karen Termaura, BJ Fulton UH IfA

Originally published on Thu April 30, 2015 7:53 am

Using telescopes in Hawaii and California, astronomers have found two super-Earth-size planets orbiting a star a mere 54 light-years away.

This brings to three the total number of exoplanets around the star HD 7924.

The discovery is important for two reasons. NASA's Kepler telescope has shown that giant rocky planets orbiting close to their stars are fairly common for distant stars. The new finding confirms that such planets exist around local stars, as well.

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Joe's Big Idea
6:59 am
Sat April 25, 2015

Hubble's Other Telescope And The Day It Rocked Our World

The Hooker 100-inch reflecting telescope at the Mount Wilson Observatory, just outside Los Angeles. Edwin Hubble's chair, on an elevating platform, is visible at left. A view from this scope first told Hubble our galaxy isn't the only one.
Courtesy of The Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science Collection at the Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif.

Originally published on Sat April 25, 2015 11:36 am

The Hubble Space Telescope this week celebrates 25 years in Earth's orbit. In that time the telescope has studied distant galaxies, star nurseries, planets in our solar system and planets orbiting other stars.

But, even with all that, you could argue that the astronomer for whom the telescope is named made even more important discoveries — with far less sophisticated equipment.

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Shots - Health News
2:45 am
Wed April 8, 2015

Doctors Test Tumor Paint In People

Blaze Bioscience is commercially developing the "paint," which glows when exposed to near-infrared light.
Courtesy of Blaze Bioscience

Originally published on Wed April 8, 2015 4:52 pm

A promising technique for making brain tumors glow so they'll be easier for surgeons to remove is now being tested in cancer patients.

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Joe's Big Idea
1:34 pm
Mon March 30, 2015

Want To Do A Little Astrophysics? This App Detects Cosmic Rays

Smart phones contain a silicon chip inside the camera that might be used to detect rare, high energy particles from outer space.
J. Yang/Courtesy of WIPAC

Originally published on Tue March 31, 2015 10:40 am

Scientists in California are hoping to use your smart phone to solve a cosmic mystery. They're developing an app to turn your phone into a cosmic ray detector. If enough people install the app, the scientists think they'll be able to figure out once and for all what's producing the very energetic cosmic rays that occasionally hit the Earth.

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Science
4:00 pm
Thu March 19, 2015

Fossil Collection Calls Berkeley's Clock Tower Home

Originally published on Thu March 19, 2015 7:19 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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Joe's Big Idea
3:00 pm
Mon February 16, 2015

Climate Scientist Tries Arts To Stir Hearts Regarding Earth's Fate

Robert Davies (standing) and the quartet during a performance of "The Crossroads Project." Musicians include (left to right) Robert Waters, Rebecca McFaul, Anne Francis Bayless and Bradley Ottesen.
Andrew McCallister Courtesy of The Crossroads Project

Originally published on Tue February 17, 2015 11:45 am

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Joe's Big Idea
4:28 pm
Fri February 6, 2015

Satellite Set To Stream Daily Images Of Earth From Space

NASA says this "blue marble" image is the most detailed true-color image of the entire Earth to date.
NASA

Originally published on Sat February 7, 2015 1:24 pm

There's something majestic, even awe-inspiring about the sight of planet Earth as a blue disc, hanging in the vastness of space.

The three astronauts aboard Apollo 8 were the first to get that view; if all goes well, later this year everyone will be able to get it on a daily basis over the Internet.

The images will come courtesy of a spacecraft called Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR). It's a mission with an unusual history.

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Animals
3:40 pm
Mon January 26, 2015

On The Ant Highway, There's Never A Backup

Originally published on Mon January 26, 2015 6:45 pm

A team of Indian physicists has made a mathematical model that purports to explain why ants don't have traffic jams. NPR's Joe Palca explains as part of his series, Joe's Big Idea.

This story originally aired on Morning Edition on January 19, 2015.

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Joe's Big Idea
2:34 am
Mon January 19, 2015

Why Ants Handle Traffic Better Than You Do

Unless there's a serious pileup, ants in traffic tend to bypass a collision and just keep going. A physicist has found a way to model this behavior with a mathematical equation.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Mon January 19, 2015 11:21 am

Could studying ants reveal clues to reducing highway traffic jams? Physicist Apoorva Nagar at the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology thinks the answer is yes.

Nagar says he got interested in the topic when he came across a study by German and Indian researchers showing that ants running along a path were able to maintain a steady speed even when there were a large number of ants on the path.

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The Two-Way
6:08 pm
Sun January 11, 2015

Ancient Scottish Sea Reptile Not 'Nessie,' But Just As Cute

An artist's rendering of what Dearcmhara shawcrossi probably looked like in dinosaur times.
Todd Marshall/University of Edinburgh

Originally published on Tue January 13, 2015 12:21 pm

Scientists in Scotland have found a prehistoric behemoth: a previously unknown species of reptile that lived in the oceans during the time of dinosaurs. And before you ask, no, scientists do not believe this new fossil has anything to do with the Loch Ness monster.

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Space
3:49 pm
Tue December 30, 2014

Scientists Bring The Sun Down To Earth To Learn How It Works

Originally published on Thu February 5, 2015 12:13 am

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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Joe's Big Idea
3:21 pm
Tue December 23, 2014

Could Glitter Help Solve NASA's Giant Telescope Problem?

Larkin Carey, an optical engineer with Ball Aerospace, examines two test mirror segments designed for the James Webb Space Telescope. The mirror for the scope is extremely powerful, but heavy and pricey.
NASA

Originally published on Thu February 5, 2015 12:16 am

NASA is building a new space telescope with astounding capabilities. The James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2018, will replace the aging Hubble Space Telescope and will provide unprecedented views of the first galaxies to form in the early universe. It might even offer the first clear glimpse of an Earth-like planet orbiting a distant star.

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Space
4:02 pm
Tue December 16, 2014

Methane Bursts On Mars Could Hint At Previous Life

Originally published on Fri December 19, 2014 12:07 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Something intriguing is happening on Mars. Instruments onboard the rover known as Curiosity are seeing bursts of methane entering the Martian atmosphere and then disappearing. NPR's Joe Palca reports.

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Research News
4:01 am
Mon December 15, 2014

Why Some Scientific Collaborations Are More Beneficial Than Others

Originally published on Fri December 19, 2014 12:09 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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