The Pulse Go on a sonic adventure into unexpected corners of the health and science world each week with host Maiken Scott. Created by WHYY in Philadelphia, the NPR member station that brought you Fresh Air with Terry Gross.
The Pulse

The Pulse


Go on a sonic adventure into unexpected corners of the health and science world each week with host Maiken Scott. Created by WHYY in Philadelphia, the NPR member station that brought you Fresh Air with Terry Gross.More from The Pulse »

Most Recent Episodes

Who's in Control – Tech or Us?

Technology helps us run our lives, do our jobs, get directions and keep track of our calendars. Right? Or, is technology taking control of our lives – stealing our time, and shattering our attention into a thousand pieces? Also heard on this week's show: How modern slot machines trick our brains into playing longer, and losing more. We visit a guy who's given his life – and his home – over to technology in his search for smarter living. Science writer Elizabeth Weingarten says her brain has been hijacked by tech. We follow her quest for digital detox. Why some teens are "ghosting" social media in the name of mental health. New Jersey is using algorithms to help determine which defendants are jailed, and which are released. Now, the death of one man is prompting a backlash. Pagers went out with mood rings and Hamsterdance – but not for doctors. We find out why hospitals are holding on to their beepers. Author of The Digital Doctor Robert Wachter envisions a future where tech advancements give patients and doctors more control over where and how they receive care. Amazon Alexa isn't just a virtual assistant – for some seniors, she's a lifeline. We hear why that is from the Front Porch Center's Kari Olsen, then meet a woman who considers Alexa a trusted friend.

Feeling Your Age

They call it the golden years, but there's a reason many of us dread old age — it can mean losing our health, our independence, our memories, and loved ones. But getting old doesn't mean what it used to. Thanks to advancements in tech and medicine, seniors have more options than ever when it comes to maintaining their health and quality of life. On this episode — how we want to age, and what gets in the way. Also heard on this week's episode: Reporter Esther Honig documents her father's cognitive decline. Geriatric nurse practitioner Barbara Resnick from the University of Maryland explains why aging bodies are like old cars — parts break down, but a little TLC can keep them running for the long haul. Endocrinologist Farah Khan on why it's important to pay attention to bone health before it's too late. Sharon Wade from St. Louis talks about caring for her mother, who has dementia. We hear about sex and intimacy at an assisted living facility in Phoenix, Arizona.

Hurricane Maria: Puerto Rico One Year Later

It's been a year since Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico, destroying lives and reducing many communities to rubble. The storm also affected the island in other ways — devastating its power grid, crippling communications, and transforming industry. On this episode, we explore Maria's aftermath — what the storm revealed about Puerto Rico's vulnerabilities, the changing landscape, and the human toll of failed infrastructure. Plus, efforts by locals to adapt and rebuild, and the challenges they face moving forward. Also heard on this week's episode: Investigative journalist Omaya Sosa Pascual unpacks the disastrous impact of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico's health care system — and why she thinks it could happen again. Biophysical chemist Belinda Pastrana on how Maria has affected her startup and why she decided she had to relocate. Marvel writer Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez explains the inspiration behind his character La Borinqueña — a superhero who's become a symbol of strength for Puerto Ricans.

Science At Work

It's Labor Day, which means we're celebrating the hard-working people who keep the engines of productivity humming. On this episode, we'll explore how science and technology are changing work and workplaces, and what we are learning about the pitfalls of different work environments. A look at how the American tradition of tying benefits to jobs has impacted our health care. We'll meet a woman who used science to prove that ladies should be part of the workforce. Plus, the psychology of snarky office emails, and the case for mandatory vacation days. Also heard on this week's episode: Marketplace's Dan Gorenstein offers a history lesson on how health coverage became tied to our jobs — along with how it's affected our wallets and the overall economy. WESA's Margaret J. Krauss brings us the story of a night-shift emergency doctor who handles lots of tough stuff and still loves his job. History Professor Carla Bittel explains how Victorian-era physician Mary Putnam Jacobi upended the idea that women can work during their periods — and how that paved the way for women to become doctors and scientists. Host Maiken Scott talks with Nikil Saval, author of Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace, about the rise of cubicles. Next, psychiatrist Jody Foster chimes in on how working together in tight spaces can create workplace tensions. Psychologist Dan Gottlieb says "end-of-summer sadness" is a real thing. But there's good news: you can also find joy while wearing a fall sweater.

How Schools Shape Health

School is a place where kids learn about health — everything from nutrition to avoiding STDs. But increasingly, schools across the country are taking a stronger role in health issues affecting students. They're providing basic medical care and counseling, and even tackling major public health problems like traumatic stress. In this episode — exploring the role that schools can and should play in caring for kids' health. Also heard on this week's episode: Why teachers at Centennial High School in Champaign, Illinois want to learn more about helping students who've experienced violence and trauma. Public health consultant Odilon Couzin talks about the extreme academic pressure kids face in Hong Kong schools. WABE's Martha Dalton explains why some schools in Atlanta are opening up health clinics right inside their buildings. KQED's Sandhya Dirks tells us about the fallout from a new California law that requires sex ed to be LGBTQ inclusive. The origins of a dreaded long-time tradition for American students: the Presidential Fitness Challenge.

When Panic Attacks

From panic disorders to social phobia, anxiety is the most common mental health condition in the United States. What toll does anxiety take on our lives? In this episode, we explore how anxiety affects our bodies, relationships, and lives. We investigate its causes, what it feels like, and what we can do to treat it. Also heard on this week's episode: Psychologist Tamar Chansky talks about what causes childhood anxiety and what parents can do to help. Her books is called Freeing Your Child from Anxiety. When anxious people show up in the emergency room, ER doc Amir Mitra often has to tease out serious physical symptoms that can mimic anxiety — and find ways not to get sucked into anxiety vortex himself. Audio producer Carin Gilfry and her sister Erica Buchiarelli discuss the anxiety that motherhood brings, and when those worries cross into the danger zone. We've all been there — waiting for someone to text us back. We explore how the expectation of constant connection has become a whole new source of anxiety. Reporter Nina Feldman brings us this story about a group of Philadelphia seniors who are working to combat anxiety among older patients.

Sports and Health

We think of sports as part of a healthy lifestyle — a chance to move our muscles, work up a sweat, release endorphins. Often that's true... other times, not so much. In this show, The Pulse explores how sports affect our health — when they help, and when they hurt. Also heard on this week's episode: Reporter Anders Kelto brings us the story of Josh Anderson — a prodigious soccer player on the cusp of making it big. Until a mental health condition got in the way. You can find a longer version of this piece on "Gamebreaker with Keith Olbermann." For talented young athletes, college can be a springboard to the big leagues. Ivy league football champ Cameron Countryman discusses the stresses of being a student-athlete. KQED's Laura Klivans reports on an effort by the Washoe people — native to California and Nevada — to revive indigenous sports. Think gamers can't get injured? Think again. Physical therapist Caitlin McGee specializes in treating injuries common among professional e-sports players. In an audio postcard from Louisville reporter Lisa Gillespie, jockey Miguel Mena discusses the dangers of horse-racing. Adaptive surfing lets people with disabilities catch a wave.

Unintended Consequences

In science and medicine, we often fail to predict the outcomes of our experiments and actions. The result: unintended consequences. Sometimes the surprise is an interesting success. Other times, it's a disaster. On this episode of The Pulse, how we handle the things we didn't see coming. The hour includes: the Nazi physician trial that helped shape medical ethics; how hospitals are dealing with incessant medical alarms; and the history of Macquarie Island — where the introduction of a few rats, cats, and rabbits triggered a domino effect of ecological disaster. On the show: Author Dawn Raffel tells us about Dr. Couney — the carnival showman who saved thousands of infants, and helped change the way we care for premature babies. Find info on her new book here. Reporter Jad Sleiman brings us the history of the Doctors' Trial — the post-WWII prosecution of Nazi physicians for war crimes. The goal was justice, but the trial yielded an unexpected result: standards that continue to shape modern medical ethics. Rotavirus once sent hundreds of thousands of U.S. children to the emergency room every year. Then, in 2006, a new vaccine was released. One of the creators, pediatrician Paul Offit, describes the worries that scientists deal with while they wait to see if their product is a success — and safe. Reporter Katja Ridderbusch explains the unintended consequences of hospital alarms, and how medical centers are tackling the problem. When Marta Rusek dropped 80 pounds in three years, her confidence soared. Then — came the comments. Shai Ben-Yaacov reports. LED streetlights can save cities millions on electric bills. But not everyone's convinced — including one young activist with some science-based quibbles. Monica Eng from WBEZ's Curious City addresses his concerns, one by one. Conservation biologist Nick Holmes explains the bizarre history of Macquarie Island, where invasive species have devastated the native ecology. Len Webb talks to Amalgam Comics owner Ariell Johnson about her time spent caring for her mother, and the unexpected gift that led to her new life.

Make (a) Way

For a long time disability meant one thing — limitations. Think about the word disabled: its literal meaning is broken, not functioning. In a world largely built by and for those considered typical, people with disabilities are often boxed out — from jobs they want, places they want to go and activities they could love. But that's changing as advances in science and technology collide with evolving conceptions of disability. On this week's show, we explore the idea that "disability" resides not in people, but in the systems, schools, workplaces and communities that don't make a way for inclusion and participation. To read a transcript of this week's episode, click here. Also on this week's show: Inside a growing movement to change a culture of medicine that sidelines disabled doctors, and could even hobble patient care. Teresa Blankmeyer Burke is a deaf philosophy professor whose work probes how we define disability – and when it's really just difference. Introducing computer scientist Brian Smith, whose big idea could be bringing mainstream video games to blind players. A chat with Mariette Bates, the head of CUNY's Disability Studies program, about embracing disability as identity, and what that means for language. Pianist Andrea Avery's life changed when she developed rheumatoid arthritis – she describes her journey navigating the gray space between health and disability. In a story from the podcast Exited, we follow a young man who says he's ready for a job, while those around him say his developmental disabilities are sure to get in the way.

DNA, Adapted

The Pulse explores how the environment shapes biology. Turns out that influence goes deep, down to the molecular level — to the DNA of humans and animals. Also heard on this week's show: Davis Land speaks with a Houston mom about the stress of dealing with Hurricane Harvey — and the super simple coping exercise that researchers say might help. Author-illustrator Katrina van Grouw takes us on pigeon hunt to explain how humans are affecting animal evolution. Her book is Unnatural Selection. Mike Moscarelli offers a history lesson on our early theories about inherited traits — and the bedeviling mystery of redheads. Dana Farengo Clark, a genetic counselor at Penn Medicine, says her white-coat world has collided with those swab-your-cheek, spit-in-a-cup commercial DNA services. Eric Kmiec, director of the Gene Editing Institute at Christiana Care Health System, shares his hopes for CRISPR, that it could be used for better lung cancer treatment.

Back To Top