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.

The human brain knows what it knows. And so, it appears, does a rat brain.

Rats have shown that they have the ability to monitor the strength of their own memories, researchers from Providence College reported this month in the journal Animal Cognition.

Brain scientists call this sort of ability metacognition. It's a concept that became famous in 2002, when then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld explained to reporters:

Gina Mazany grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. And that's where she had her first fight.

"It was right after I turned 18," she recalls.

A local bar had a boxing ring, and Mazany decided to give it a shot. Her opponent was an older woman with a "mom haircut."

"She beat the crap out of me," Mazany says. "Like she didn't knock me out, she didn't finish me. But she just knocked me around for three rounds. And I remember, later that night I was very, very nauseous. I was throwing up that night."

It was her first concussion.

Doctors use words like "aggressive" and "highly malignant" to describe the type of brain cancer discovered in Arizona Sen. John McCain.

The cancer is a glioblastoma, the Mayo Clinic said in a statement Wednesday. It was diagnosed after doctors surgically removed a blood clot from above McCain's left eye.

Doctors who were not involved in his care say the procedure likely removed much of the tumor as well.

Harsh life experiences appear to leave African-Americans vulnerable to Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, researchers reported Sunday at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in London.

Several teams presented evidence that poverty, disadvantage and stressful life events are strongly associated with cognitive problems in middle age and dementia later in life among African-Americans.

Thanks to Sigmund Freud, we all know what it means to dream about swords, sticks and umbrellas. Or maybe we don't.

"For 100 years, we got stuck into that Freudian perspective on dreams, which turned out to be not scientifically very accurate," says Robert Stickgold, a sleep researcher and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "So it's only been in the last 15 to 20 years that we've really started making progress."

Researchers are working to revive a radical treatment for Parkinson's disease.

The treatment involves transplanting healthy brain cells to replace cells killed off by the disease. It's an approach that was tried decades ago and then set aside after disappointing results.

Now, groups in Europe, the U.S. and Asia are preparing to try again, using cells they believe are safer and more effective.

Most people have an uncanny ability to tell one face from another, even though the differences are extremely small. Now scientists think they know how our brains do this.

In macaque monkeys, which share humans' skill with faces, groups of specialized neurons in the brain called face cells appeared to divide up the task of assessing a face, a team at the California Institute of Technology reports Thursday in the journal Cell.

Impulsive children become thoughtful adults only after years of improvements to the brain's information highways, a team reports in Current Biology.

A study of nearly 900 young people ages 8 to 22 found that the ability to control impulses, stay on task and make good decisions increased steadily over that span as the brain remodeled its information pathways to become more efficient.

It took an explosion and 13 pounds of iron to usher in the modern era of neuroscience.

In 1848, a 25-year-old railroad worker named Phineas Gage was blowing up rocks to clear the way for a new rail line in Cavendish, Vt. He would drill a hole, place an explosive charge, then pack in sand using a 13-pound metal bar known as a tamping iron.

When it comes to breast-feeding, orangutans are the champs.

Past studies of orangutans in the wild have found that mothers nurse their offspring for up to seven years, longer than any other primate.

But a new study of orangutan teeth suggests even that estimate is low, a team reports Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

A little spit may help predict whether a child's concussion symptoms will subside in days or persist for weeks.

A test that measures fragments of genetic material in saliva was nearly 90 percent accurate in identifying children and adolescents whose symptoms persisted for at least a month, a Penn State team told the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in San Francisco, Calif. In contrast, a concussion survey commonly used by doctors was right less than 70 percent of the time.

Tiny, 3-D clusters of human brain cells grown in a petri dish are providing hints about the origins of disorders like autism and epilepsy.

An experiment using these cell clusters — which are only about the size of the head of a pin — found that a genetic mutation associated with both autism and epilepsy kept developing cells from migrating normally from one cluster of brain cells to another, researchers report in the journal Nature.

People with a brain injury or dementia often struggle to remember simple things, like names or places. In research published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, scientists have shown it may be possible to improve this sort of memory using tiny pulses of electricity — if they're properly timed.

A typical person's ability to remember things tends to vary a lot, says Michael Kahana, who directs the computational memory lab at the University of Pennsylvania.

Most of us have about five dreams each night, though we're not likely to remember any of them.

But a team of researchers has found a pattern of brain activity that seems to reveal not only when the brain is generating a dream but something about the content of that dream.

The U.S. military is trying to figure out whether certain heavy weapons are putting U.S. troops in danger.

The concern centers on the possibility of brain injuries from shoulder-fired weapons like the Carl Gustaf, a recoilless rifle that resembles a bazooka and is powerful enough to blow up a tank.

A paralyzed man has regained the use of his arm and hand using a system that decodes his thoughts and controls his muscles.

Gerard Sanacora, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University, has treated hundreds of severely depressed patients with low doses of ketamine, an anesthetic and popular club drug that isn't approved for depression.

This sort of "off-label" prescribing is legal. But Sanacora says other doctors sometimes ask him, "How can you be offering this to patients based on the limited amount of information that's out there and not knowing the potential long-term risk?"

Sanacora has a simple answer.

Scientists are hoping that a single drug can treat two devastating brain diseases: Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

The drug is nilotinib, which is approved to treat a form of leukemia.

Scientists may have solved the mystery of nodding syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that has disabled thousands of children in East Africa.

Researchers have created mice that appear impervious to the lure of cocaine.

Even after the genetically engineered animals were given the drug repeatedly, they did not appear to crave it the way typical mice do, a team reports in Nature Neuroscience.

What Einstein did for physics, a Spaniard named Santiago Ramón y Cajal did for neuroscience more than a century ago.

Back in the 1890s, Cajal produced a series of drawings of brain cells that would radically change scientists' understanding of the brain.

And Cajal's drawings aren't just important to science. They are considered so striking that the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis has organized a traveling exhibition of Cajal's work called The Beautiful Brain.

Updated at 3 p.m. ET on Jan. 27

There has been a lot of arguing about the size of crowds in the past few days. Estimates for President Trump's inauguration and the Women's March a day later vary widely.

Mice that kill at the flip of a switch may reveal how hunting behavior evolved hundreds of millions of years ago.

The mice became aggressive predators when two sets of neurons in the amygdala were activated with laser light, a team reported Thursday in the journal Cell.

A comparison of kid brains and grownup brains may explain why our ability to recognize faces keeps getting better until about age 30.

Brain scans of 25 adults and 22 children showed that an area devoted to facial recognition keeps growing long after adolescence, researchers report in the journal Science.

For patients with serious brain injuries, there's a strong link between sleep patterns and recovery.

A study of 30 patients hospitalized for moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries found that sleep quality and brain function improved in tandem, researchers reported Wednesday in the journal Neurology.

The Pentagon has quietly sidelined a program that placed blast gauges on thousands of combat troops in Afghanistan.

NPR has learned the monitoring was discontinued because the gauges failed to reliably show whether service members had been close enough to an explosion to have sustained a concussion, or mild traumatic brain injury.

Forget where you just left your car keys? A magnetic pulse might help you remember.

Some dormant memories can be revived by delivering a pulse of magnetic energy to the right brain cells, researchers report Thursday in the journal Science.

The finding is part of a study that suggests the brain's "working memory" system is far less volatile than scientists once thought.

A nonprofit research group is giving scientists a new way to study the secret lives of human cells.

On Wednesday, the Allen Institute for Cell Science provided access to a collection of living stem cells that have been genetically altered to make internal structures like the nucleus and mitochondria glow.

You may not remember what you were doing a few minutes ago. But your dog probably does.

A study of 17 dogs found they could remember and imitate their owners' actions up to an hour later. The results, published Wednesday in Current Biology, suggest that dogs can remember and relive an experience much the way people do.

There's new evidence that excessive screen time early in life can change the circuits in a growing brain.

Scientists disagree, though, about whether those changes are helpful, or just cause problems. Both views emerged during the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego this week.

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