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.

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.

A brain system that helps us find our way to the supermarket may also help us navigate a lifetime of memories.

At least that's the implication of a study of rats published in the journal Neuron.

It found that special brain cells that track an animal's location also can track time and distance. This could explain how rat and human brains are able to organize memories according to where and when an event occurred.

For a few days this week, a convention center in Chicago became the global epicenter of brain science.

Nearly 30,000 scientists swarmed through the vast hallways of the McCormick Place convention center as part of the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting. Among them were Nobel Prize winners, the director of the National Institutes of Health, and scores of researchers regarded as the international rock stars of neuroscience.

Babies born prematurely are much more likely than other children to develop autism, ADHD and emotional disorders. Now researchers think they may have an idea about how that could happen.

There's evidence that preemies are born with weak connections in some critical brain networks, including those involved in focus, social interactions, and emotional processing, researchers reported at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Chicago.

A drug that's already approved for treating leukemia appears to dramatically reduce symptoms in people who have Parkinson's disease with dementia, or a related condition called Lewy body dementia.

A pilot study of 12 patients given small doses of nilotinib found that movement and mental function improved in all of the 11 people who completed the six-month trial, researchers reported Saturday at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Chicago.

The benefits of talk therapy for depression have been overstated in the scientific literature, according to a study in the journal PLOS ONE.

The finding comes several years after a similar study reached the same conclusion about antidepressant drugs.

A mind-altering drug called ketamine is changing the way some doctors treat depression.

Encouraged by research showing that ketamine can relieve even the worst depression in a matter of hours, these doctors are giving the drug to some of their toughest patients. And they're doing this even though ketamine lacks approval from the Food and Drug Administration for treating depression.

When it comes to sleep, fruit flies are a lot like people. They sleep at night, caffeine keeps them awake, and they even get insomnia.

Those similarities, along with scientists' detailed knowledge of the genes and brain structure of Drosophila melanogaster, have made the fruit fly extremely valuable to sleep researchers.

It may be possible to transmit Alzheimer's disease from one person to another, according to a study published Wednesday in Nature. But this would occur only in highly unusual circumstances involving direct exposure to brain tissue, scientists say.

Oliver Sacks, a neurologist and best-selling author who explored the human brain one patient at a time, has died of cancer. He was 82.

Sacks was best known for his books The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Awakenings, which became a 1990 feature film starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro.

It's time for consumers to wake up to the risks of sleep disorders, scientists say.

Lihong Wang creates the sort of medical technology you'd expect to find on the starship Enterprise.

Wang, a professor of biomedical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, has already helped develop instruments that can detect individual cancer cells in the bloodstream and oxygen consumption deep within the body. He has also created a camera that shoots at 100 billion frames a second, fast enough to freeze an object traveling at the speed of light.

The face of Alzheimer's isn't always old. Sometimes it belongs to someone like Giedre Cohen, who is 37, yet struggles to remember her own name.

Until about a year ago, Giedre was a "young, healthy, beautiful" woman just starting her life, says her husband, Tal Cohen, a real estate developer in Los Angeles. Now, he says, "her mind is slowly wasting away."

People like Giedre have a rare gene mutation that causes symptoms of Alzheimer's to appear before they turn 60.

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