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.

Most Recent Episodes

Why We Play

You know what they say — all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. And science seems to confirm that statement, with findings that play is as important for adults' emotional health as it is for children's development. But what exactly counts as play? Who engages in it — and why is it so important? On this episode, we explore some of those questions. We'll hear stories about rediscovering play as an adult, which animals play and why, and meet a reverend in her 70s who still jumps double dutch. Also heard on this week's episode: Psychologist Kathy Hirsh Pasek explains why play is so important for children's social and neurological development. Harvard Kennedy School lecturer David Eaves on why he uses the game Werewolf — also known as Mafia — in the classroom, and what it has to teach us. Reporter Nina Feldman investigates the lack of playgrounds in different neighborhoods, and what that means for the kids who live in them. Reverend Malika Lee Whitney discusses her love for double dutch, and her program Double Dutch Dreamz, and how it's improved both physical health and community bonds in Harlem.

How Buildings Impact Our Lives

From bungalows to skyscrapers, farmhouses to condos, brownstones to corner shops, buildings define the spaces of our lives. They are our homes, our workplaces, and our settings for fun, commerce, and government. And the way they're built can shape the way we live our lives. In this episode, we look at how buildings affect our health and well-being, along with the future of our cities. We hear stories about protecting hospitals from the elements, what it takes to make buildings truly accessible, and how public housing high-rises got such a bad rap. Also heard on this week's episode: Thirty years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act set the standard for making buildings accessible. But according to architect Brenda Zhang, accessibility should go beyond simple compliance. Brenda explains why true accessibility is in the details, and what it takes to make buildings that work for a range of different disabilities. In a lot of cities, public housing high-rises are being razed. Over the years, they have become associated with crime, decay, and terrible living conditions. Reporter Darryl Murphy traces the history of how public housing high-rises earned such a bad rap. Reporter Peter Crimmins tells the harrowing tale of how his fixer-upper turned into a house of horrors.


Everyone loves a good comeback story — but they don't just apply to athletes and washed-up actors. Revivals can happen for ideas, places — even entire species. On this episode of The Pulse, we explore how and why comebacks happen in the scientific realm. We'll hear stories about how grizzly bears are starting to rebound, the unexpected revival of Lamarckian evolution, how flatworms regenerate their bodies, and the psychological power of nostalgia. Also heard on this week's episode: For decades, talking about UFOs was sure to earn you some strange looks. But now that more credible accounts are emerging, that could be changing. For this story, we hear from investigative journalist Leslie Kean, Vincent Aiello from the Fighter Pilot Podcast, and Jill Tarter from the SETI Institute. Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado — a molecular biologist at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City — talks about the regenerative abilities of flatworms and salamanders, and how that might help us better understand our own biology. Paleontologist and University of Washington professor Peter Ward on the life and work of naturalist Jean Baptiste Lamarck — and why his controversial ideas on evolution are making a comeback. Ward's book is called "Lamarck's Revenge: How Epigenetics Is Revolutionizing Our Understanding of Evolution's Past and Present."

The Other Side of the Moon

In honor of Apollo 11's 50th anniversary, we've been talking a lot about getting to the moon, and the science of understanding its origins. This episode is more of a tribute to the moon itself, and our relationship with this bright, beautiful object in the sky. The moon lights up our nights, influences the oceans' tides, stabilizes the earth's tilt — which is responsible for our seasons. Without the moon, our lives here on Earth would be very, very different. On this episode of The Pulse, we pay homage to all the moon does — and delve into our relationship with the moon. Also heard on this week's episode: Annette Lee — who is Native American, and a professor of astronomy and physics — talks about how these two perspectives align and differ in understanding the moon. Eclipses — lunar and especially solar — tend to inspire wonder and awe, but for ancient people, they could also seem scary or threatening. Jonathan Seitz, a history professor at Drexel University, studies ancient cultures. He tells us how ancient civilizations were able to keep track of and predict solar and lunar eclipses without modern technology, and the meaning behind an eclipse. We separate fact from fiction about when and why wolves howl, and what a howl might actually mean. Biodynamic farming isn't just about avoiding pesticides and growing organic. It also takes into account the moon's gravitational pull and planting by the phases of the moon. We visit a biodynamic vineyard in California's wine country to hear more about their farming methods. The Lunar Society in England derived its name from the moon — and used its light to help members get to meetings. It was a gathering of influential scientists who hatched big plans on moonlit nights. David Warmflash writes about this in his new book "Moon: An Illustrated History."

Destination Moon

On July 20th, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon. It was an astounding achievement — a feat of science and technology, born from the will and effort of thousands. But it was also an incredible risk, one that could very well have ended in tragedy. Fifty years later, we pay homage to that mission with stories about the moon landing's significance, its drama, and its legacy. On this special episode of The Pulse, we hear stories about the science that got us to the moon, the politics that have pushed — and stagnated — space exploration, and our relationship with the moon. Also — how people around the country remember and celebrated the moon landing. Also heard on this week's episode: During a recent panel discussion, Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins called their mission to the moon a "fragile daisy chain of events," that could have fallen apart at any moment. Space journalist Andrew Chaikin describes one of those moments: their nerve-wracking, and nearly catastrophic, descent to the moon's surface. Eric Ward from the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City talks about the moon rock they currently have on display, and why this aspect of the Apollo missions was so important to our understanding of the moon's origins. Astronomer Jackie Faherty from the Museum of Natural History weighs in on the moon being the perfect place to learn more about the universe. What can Legos teach kids about the challenges of space exploration? We visit with kids in Houston, Texas, and find out how they view the moon landing — along with that era's technology. Politics and space exploration have had a long and complicated history. Priorities change and funding dries up. We explore how NASA adapts to changing administrations, and changing expectations. Former rocket scientist Poppy Northcutt was in the control room during Apollo missions, and says it's "bittersweet" looking back on those days. She's proud of all they achieved, but sad that we didn't keep pushing. She makes a case for returning to the moon — and going on to Mars. Poppy was featured in the PBS American Experience documentary "Chasing the Moon."

Why We Exercise

Running, biking, weightlifting, swimming — for lots of people, working out is an important part of life. It's about our health — mental and physical — strength, weight control, discipline and let's face it: vanity. On this episode, we explore why we exercise, why we should, and how to do it best. Also heard on this week's episode: Baby, we were born to run — even more than you might think. Reporter Jad Sleiman explores why humans are such improbably good runners. We cheer on Harvard professor Dan Lieberman as he races a horse in a 20-mile run, learn the history of persistence hunting, and find out why butts are our secret weapon. Producer Lindsay Lazarski talks with historian Natalia Mehlman Petrzela about the history of women's workouts — starting with the "reducing salons" of the 1930s through the age of jazzercise and aerobics. Petrzela's upcoming book is called "Fit Nation: How America Embraced Exercise As The Government Abandoned It." Want to be able to tie your shoes when you're 80, and still get up the stairs? Start working out now. We chat with sports physician Tony Reed from Temple University Hospital about the benefits of regular exercise for healthy aging. Working out transformed Marta Rusek's health and her life. But changing her difficult relationship with her body took even more time — and work.

The Science of Everyday Objects

From penicillin to the moon landing, we have science to thank for humanity's greatest achievements. But science has also helped advance things we consider common and ordinary. From bicycles to toilets, our everyday objects hold tales of dogged pursuit, and occasional lucky breaks. On this episode of The Pulse, we take a closer look at our stuff, to uncover the hidden science that fuels our daily lives. Also heard on this week's episode: Bathrooms used to be much more luxurious — and way gross. Public health historian Michael Yudell tells us how germ theory revolutionized the way we design our restrooms. Reporter Todd Bookman spins a yarn about — well, yarn. How we went from cotton to GORE-TEX, and where these fibers of the future are developed. Chemist and retired "stain detective" Curtis Schwartz on how laundry detergents have really "turned the tide" (eh? eh?) when it comes to getting rid of stains. LCD screens light up our lives and bombard us with information everywhere we go. Science historian Ben Gross talks about the origins of liquid-crystal displays (aka LCDs) in his new book "The TVs of Tomorrow." Archival audio courtesy of the Hagley Museum and Library. Psychologist Nicholas Epley explains why we anthropomorphize everyday objects; then Ian Chillag — creator of the podcast "Everything is Alive" — helps us speak directly with our stuff. Professional foodie (and self-described clean freak) Rebecca Firkser schools us on the hidden dangers that lurk in recyclable straws. She is the Culinary Editor at the breakfast and brunch website Extra Crispy.

How Did We Miss That?

You're developing a new, revolutionary product. You have all the science figured out, it works like a charm. Problem is, nobody wants — or needs — your product. How do things like this happen? On this episode, we look into this phenomenon, of missing something that's pretty obvious — the things we didn't see coming. Why do we miss them — and how can we prevent this from happening? We hear stories about doctors making the wrong diagnosis; how grifters get away with cons; and why a sweeping approach to reducing the opioid crisis might do more harm than good. Also heard on this week's episode: Damian Sendler made a name for himself as a wunderkind sex researcher — until a Gizmodo article called Sendler out as a fraud. We talk with reporter Jennings Brown about how he unmasked Sendler — and hear from Sendler about why he says the whole business is just a case of professional assassination. How do people get away with blatant lies, exaggerations and false credentials? Psychologist Maria Konnikova takes us into the mind of a con artist — and points us to some red flags. It seems like simple logic: If it's prescription painkillers that caused the opioid crisis, limiting them should get us out of it. But for some struggling with addiction, that route has done more harm than good. Neurologist Jonathan Howard explains the cognitive blind spots behind medical mistakes of omission — like missed diagnoses and tests not ordered. His book on the topic is "Cognitive Errors and Diagnostic Mistakes: A Case-Based Guide to Critical Thinking in Medicine."

Opting Out

There's a comfort to the mainstream way of doing things — it offers standard solutions to standard problems. But sometimes existing systems don't work or aren't accessible, and we're forced to carve out our own paths. On this episode, we explore stories of opting out — and finding new solutions. We hear about communities opting out of conventional internet service, universities ditching the GRE test as part of their admissions process, and people saying no to some aspects of medical care. Why we opt out, where it leads, and why, sometimes, it just might be impossible. Also heard on this week's episode: In Detroit, roughly 40 percent of residents have no internet at home. In response, communities there and elsewhere are exploring mesh networks — a kind of shared wireless that's built from the ground up. Steph Yin explains how it works, and the challenges these projects face. Reporter Noam Osband talks with Jessica Zitter, a palliative care physician who wants her patients to know that opting out of aggressive medical treatments doesn't mean they're "giving up." Zitter's book is called "Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life." When Steven Morgan was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, he was given several prescriptions to stabilize his moods. The medications helped ease his depression and anxiety, but he also felt that they erased certain aspects of his personality and creativity. The physical side effects were severe, and eventually, Steven decided he wanted to learn to manage his illness on his own, without medication. Ethan Brooks reports this story. Plastic poses a growing threat to the environment, and especially our oceans. We record what it's like attempting to live without plastic for a day, and chat with Rose Eveleth, who imagines a world without plastic on her podcast "Flash Forward." When Tony Martinez scheduled his first colonoscopy, the doctor said he would need someone to drive him home afterwards because of the anesthesia. So Tony decided to opt out — and experience the full procedure without going under.

Cats and Dogs, their Health and Ours

For a lot of Americans, cats and dogs are more than just pets — they're our fur babies. We're willing to do whatever it takes to keep them happy and healthy. But sometimes — whatever it takes — gets complicated and expensive. On this episode of The Pulse, we examine pet health from Prozac to surgery, and the epidemic of fat cats and pudgy pups. Plus, how pets impact human well-being. Also heard on this week's episode: Every year, thousands of Americans end up in the hospital because of dog bites. K-9 behavior therapist Patricia Bentz discusses how to prevent bites. Tourist brochures for Paris don't tend to illuminate the city's dog poop problem. Journalist Marjorie Hache walks us through the City of Light's long struggle to get residents to clean up after their pets. When pet care gets too costly in the U.S., some people resort to "economic euthanasia." How did vet bills become so expensive? And, is universal health insurance for pets an answer? More than half of cats and dogs in the U.S. are obese — and the 'food is love' attitude from pet owners isn't helping. What do you do when the your usually sweet cat becomes angry and aggressive? For some pet owners , Prozac is the prescription. Daryl Whiting has had lots of cats and dogs over her lifetime. For her, the last moments in a pet's life are precious — she's become an unofficial pet chaplain.

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