Jon Hamilton

Jon Hamilton is a correspondent for NPR's Science Desk. Currently he focuses on neuroscience and health risks.

In 2014, Hamilton went to Liberia as part of the NPR team that covered Ebola. The team received a Peabody Award for its coverage.

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 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.

Scientists have found a biological clue that could help explain why African-Americans appear to be more vulnerable than white Americans to Alzheimer's disease.

A study of 1,255 people, both black and white, found that cerebrospinal fluid from African-Americans tended to contain lower levels of a substance associated with Alzheimer's, researchers report Monday in the journal JAMA Neurology.

Yet these low levels did not seem to protect black participants from the disease.

The holiday season is all about cute. You've got those ads with adorable children and those movies about baby animals with big eyes.

But when people encounter too much cuteness, the result can be something scientists call "cute aggression."

It was a question about soccer that got Philip Bayly interested in brain injuries.

Bayly, a mechanical engineer at Washington University in St. Louis, was approached by several doctors who wanted advice about some young soccer players they were treating.

"They said, 'Well, we've got some kids who have concussions and they want to know if they can go back to play. And we don't know what's happening to their head when they're heading a soccer ball,' " Bayly recalls.

Just in time for the winter solstice, scientists may have figured out how short days can lead to dark moods.

Two recent studies suggest the culprit is a brain circuit that connects special light-sensing cells in the retina with brain areas that affect whether you are happy or sad.

When these cells detect shorter days, they appear to use this pathway to send signals to the brain that can make a person feel glum or even depressed.

There's new evidence that mild pulses of electricity can relieve depression — if they reach the right target in the brain.

A study of 25 people with epilepsy found that those who had symptoms of depression felt better almost immediately when doctors electrically stimulated an area of the brain just above the eyes, a team reported Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

Scientists may have caught a glimpse of what sadness looks like in the brain.

A study of 21 people found that for most, feeling down was associated with greater communication between brain areas involved in emotion and memory, a team from the University of California, San Francisco reported Thursday in the journal Cell.

A substance that gives pot its kick appears to reduce the brain changes associated with Alzheimer's disease – at least in mice.

In mice that had been genetically tweaked to develop symptoms like those of Alzheimer's, animals that received a synthetic form of tetrahydrocannabinol for six weeks performed as well as healthy mice on a memory test, scientists reported Tuesday at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego.

You hear a new colleague's name. You get directions to the airport. You glance at a phone number you're about to call.

These are the times you need working memory, the brain's system for temporarily holding important information.

"Working memory is the sketchpad of your mind; it's the contents of your conscious thoughts," says Earl Miller, a professor of neuroscience at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.

An ancient part of the brain long ignored by the scientific world appears to play a critical role in everything from language and emotions to daily planning.

It's the cerebellum, which is found in fish and lizards as well as people.

But in the human brain, this structure is wired to areas involved in higher-order thinking, a team led by researchers from Washington University in St. Louis reports Thursday in the journal Neuron.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who died Monday, made his fortune from software that ran computer brains.

But Allen's own passion was for the human brain.

"The human brain works in, so far, mysterious and wondrous ways that are completely different than the ways that computers calculate," he told NPR during an interview in 2003. "Things like appetite or emotion, how do those function in the brain?"

In order to see the red of a sunset or the green of spring leaves, developing human eyes need to get the right hormone at the right time.

That's the finding of a team of scientists who studied how color vision develops using hundreds of human retinas grown in the lab.

As a specialist in Alzheimer's prevention, Jessica Langbaum knows that exercising her mental muscles can help keep her brain sharp.

But Langbaum, who holds a doctorate in psychiatric epidemiology, has no formal mental fitness program. She doesn't do crossword puzzles or play computer brain games.

"Just sitting down and doing Sudoku isn't probably going to be the one key thing that's going to prevent you from developing Alzheimer's disease," she says.

Experiments with two gambling monkeys have revealed a small area in the brain that plays a big role in risky decisions.

When researchers inactivated this region in the prefrontal cortex, the rhesus monkeys became less inclined to choose a long shot over a sure thing, the team reported Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

Government scientists have presented new evidence that the plastic additive BPA isn't a health threat.

Low doses of the chemical given to hundreds of rats, "did not elicit clear, biologically plausible adverse effects," said K. Barry Delclos, a research pharmacologist at the Food and Drug Administration's National Center for Toxicological Research.

A new study suggests that ketamine, an increasingly popular treatment for depression, has something in common with drugs like fentanyl and oxycodone.

The small study found evidence that ketamine's effectiveness with depression, demonstrated in many small studies over the past decade, comes from its interaction with the brain's opioid system. A Stanford University team reported their findings Wednesday in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

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