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.

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Shots - Health News
2:24 pm
Wed April 2, 2014

Map Of The Developing Human Brain Shows Where Problems Begin

Images of the developing fetal brain show connections among brain regions.
Allen Institute for Brain Science; Bruce Fischl, Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital

Originally published on Tue May 27, 2014 2:31 pm

A high-resolution map of the human brain in utero is providing hints about the origins of brain disorders including schizophrenia and autism.

The map shows where genes are turned on and off throughout the entire brain at about the midpoint of pregnancy, a time when critical structures are taking shape, researchers reported Wednesday in the journal Nature.

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Shots - Health News
3:30 pm
Thu March 27, 2014

Jump In Autism Cases May Not Mean It's More Prevalent

State numbers on autism probably don't accurately reflect children's health status, researchers say.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Thu March 27, 2014 4:39 pm

The government's latest estimate shows that 1 in 68 children in the U.S. has an autism spectrum disorder. That's a remarkable jump from just two years ago, when the figure was 1 in 88, and an even bigger jump from 2007, when it was just 1 in 150.

But officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the agency's skyrocketing estimates don't necessarily mean that kids are more likely to have autism now than they were 10 years ago.

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Shots - Health News
6:56 pm
Wed March 26, 2014

Brain Changes Suggest Autism Starts In The Womb

Researchers say intervention in early childhood may help the developing brain compensate by rewiring to work around the trouble spots.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Thu March 27, 2014 11:03 am

The symptoms of autism may not be obvious until a child is a toddler, but the disorder itself appears to begin well before birth.

Brain tissue taken from children who died and also happened to have autism revealed patches of disorganization in the cortex, a thin sheet of cells that's critical for learning and memory, researchers report in the New England Journal of Medicine. Tissue samples from children without autism didn't have those characteristic patches.

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Shots - Health News
2:04 pm
Sun March 9, 2014

Alzheimer's Blood Test Raises Ethical Questions

Scientists have long sought a way to detect Alzheimer's before symptoms appear.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Mon March 10, 2014 9:59 am

An experimental blood test can identify people in their 70s who are likely to develop Alzheimer's disease within two or three years. The test is accurate more than 90 percent of the time, scientists reported Sunday in Nature Medicine.

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The Salt
5:28 pm
Wed February 26, 2014

Maybe That BPA In Your Canned Food Isn't So Bad After All

Should you fear a chemical inside metal food containers like the ones that hold beans? Government scientists say no.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

Originally published on Wed April 30, 2014 12:39 pm

Maybe BPA isn't so bad after all.

The plastic additive has been vilified by environmental advocacy groups. But the chemical had no effect on rats fed thousands of times the amount a typical person ingests, government scientists are reporting in the journal Toxicological Sciences.

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Shots - Health News
3:35 am
Mon February 24, 2014

Orphans' Lonely Beginnings Reveal How Parents Shape A Child's Brain

In the Institute for the Unsalvageable in Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania, shown here in 1992, children were left in cribs for days on end.
Tom Szalay

Originally published on Tue February 25, 2014 12:07 pm

Parents do a lot more than make sure a child has food and shelter, researchers say. They play a critical role in brain development.

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Science
5:25 pm
Wed February 5, 2014

Seeing Less Helps The Brain Hear More

iStockphoto

Originally published on Wed February 5, 2014 10:23 pm

A few days in the dark can improve an animal's hearing, scientists report this week in the journal Neuron. This temporary loss of visual input seems to trigger favorable changes in areas of the brain that process auditory information, they say.

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Science
5:09 pm
Thu January 30, 2014

Researchers Watch As Our Brains Turn Sounds Into Words

Katherine Streeter for NPR

Originally published on Fri January 31, 2014 7:19 pm

Researchers are a bit closer to understanding one of the brain's greatest accomplishments: making sense out of spoken language.

An area of the brain that interprets speech contains cells that respond to the dozen or so basic units of sound we use to form words, according to a team from the University of California, San Francisco.

Some of these cells respond specifically to plosives, like the initial "puh" sounds in "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers," the team found. Other neurons respond to fricative consonants, like the "f" sound in the word "fish."

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Shots - Health News
3:00 pm
Mon January 27, 2014

Stricter Autism Criteria Unlikely To Reduce Services For Kids

Clinical specialist Catey Funaiock took notes while observing a 5-year-old boy at the Marcus Autism Center, part of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, in September.
David Goldman AP

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 1:55 pm

The clinical definition for when a child has some form of autism has been tightened. And these narrower criteria for autism spectrum disorder probably will reduce the number of kids who meet the new standard.

But researchers say the changes, which were rolled out last May, are likely to have a bigger effect on government statistics than on the care of the nation's children.

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Shots - Health News
8:15 pm
Wed January 22, 2014

A Growth Factor Heals The Damage To A Preemie's Brain — In Mice

A baby born too soon continues to develop and grow inside an incubator at the neonatal ward of the Centre Hospitalier de Lens in Lens, northern France.
Philippe Huguen AFP/Getty Images

A naturally occurring substance called epidermal growth factor appears to reverse a type of brain damage that's common in very premature infants.

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