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

Understanding Violence

On this episode of the The Pulse, we examine violence — what sparks it, how it spreads, and where it can lead. We'll learn about the spectrum of violence, from everyday blowups to terrorist acts. The hour includes stories about the allure of violence — which some people admit can sometimes be a thrill. A public health expert discusses the far-reaching impact of violence on health and well-being, including the reverberations for African Americans affected by police violence. Plus, one researcher says 2-year-olds are the most violent people on the planet. Also heard on this week's episode: For years, psychologists have tried to understand the minds of terrorists so we can figure out why they commit violent acts. But now researchers are learning that might not be the best question to ask. We associate mass shootings with mental illness — but are they really connected? Psychiatrist Amy Barnhorst confronted just this question when an angry 18-year-old walked into her office, threatening to shoot up his school. We've all been there — on the brink of a conniption, ready to snap. Psychology professor Nathan DeWall zooms in on this fragile moment of flux to explain what makes us either control those impulses, or boil over. African Americans are more likely to be the victims of crime and assault, as well as police violence. Harvard public health professor David Williams explains how living under constant threat can take a toll on both physical and mental health. Community organizer Alfred Marshall spent years working to curb violence in New Orleans. His weapon: the gospel of de-escalation. His beliefs were put to the test when the city's violence hit close to home.

Body Politics

Our bodies are ours, but how we feel about them is largely defined by others — by the things people say, the culture we live in, the messages we get about which kinds of bodies are acceptable ... and which kinds aren't. On this episode of The Pulse, we look at how culture and politics shape the way we feel about our bodies. We'll hear stories about bodies transformed by disease, weight, and age, and how those changes affect people's sense of identity. We'll also talk about the struggle to reclaim bodies from other people's narratives about what is strong or beautiful, ugly or dangerous. Also heard on this week's episode: When Earni Young turned 68, arthritis started to slow her down. She talks about her struggle to keep active, and how aging can make you feel invisible. More men than ever are getting cosmetic surgery — we look at what they're getting done, and why. How the criminalization of HIV transforms bodies into weapons in the eyes of the law — and one man who spent nearly a decade in prison as a result. Writer Kiese Laymon talks about what it means to be black, male and overweight, and how his relationship with his body changed along with his size. His new memoir is called "Heavy." We talk to yoga therapist Jennifer Kreatsoulas about recovering from an eating disorder, and how yoga can help people love their bodies. Her new book is "Body Mindful Yoga." Filmmaker Emily MacKenzie shares the stories of two people whose conceptions of their bodies changed after getting double mastectomies. Shane Duquette was always skinny — until he hit the gym, and added 50 pounds of muscle. We talk to him about his transformation from beanpole to buff, and his efforts to help other skinny guys with his muscle-building website From Bony To Beastly.

The Water We Drink

Most of us take our drinking water for granted — switch on the tap, and out it flows. But in much of the world, that's not the case. At home and abroad, tensions are mounting over water. In this episode, we take a closer look at the water we drink. We'll hear stories about why water's so important to our health; why we enjoy some kinds of water, but not others; how exactly water becomes clean enough to drink; and we'll explore its ability to shape communities, and even politics, around the world. Also heard on this week's episode: Scooch over soda — the age of seltzer has dawned. We visit Brooklyn Seltzer Boys to hear about how fizzy water works, and why we love it. A chat with Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Flint, Michigan, pediatrician who blew the whistle on the city's drinking water crisis. Her book is What the Eyes Don't See. How private wells sparked "water wars" in a Washington state farming community. Scott Harrison talks about his transformation from hard-partying nightclub promoter to founder of the nonprofit Charity: Water. His new book is Thirst. In arid Phoenix, Stina Sieg describes the sweat-inducing adventure that helped her realize the importance of hydration.

We're family — but why?

Ever sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, look around at the shining faces of your family, and think to yourself: "How the heck am I related to these people?"? You're not alone. Family can be a source of love and support, along with frustration and bafflement. So what keeps us tied to family — shared memories and family dinners? Or is it blood and genetics? The Pulse explores how we define family — and how family defines us. Also heard on this week's episode: To get us ready for the possible tumult and hurt feelings at the holiday dinner table, psychology professor Marissa Holst explains how conflict can both hurt and strengthen families. When Jean DelMuto needed a kidney, her nephew Jim Melwert volunteered. Neither realized the family reverberations his generosity would cause. Biologist PZ Myers discusses whether genetics explains our drive to connect with distant relatives across the world. Tara and Alan Atchison knew before they got married that if they wanted children, they'd probably adopt. Going that route expanded their idea of family more than they had expected.

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 edits the breakfast and brunch website Extra Crispy.

The Skinny on Skin

When's the last time you saw a get-well card for psoriasis or eczema? Skin's our biggest organ — and does lots of hard work keeping us healthy — but still, it doesn't get much respect. Skin regulates our temperature, protects us from germs, and generally serves as the final barrier between our bodies and the world. On this episode, we look at what our skin does for us — and what happens when it breaks down. Also heard on this week's episode: Hong Kong beauty editor Francesca Ng works in an industry that idolizes skin perfection, but she's spent a lifetime struggling with eczema. Inadequate training and implicit bias may be keeping doctors from spotting skin problems in people of color. VisualDx says its tech fix could lead to better diagnosis. Dermatologist Anisha Patel explains how skin pigment works. Colorado Public Radio spoke with burn center patient Dave Repsher about his near-fatal helicopter crash and long recovery. How runners protect their skin from sweat, weather — and their greatest nemesis: chafing.

Facing Our Fears

Cue the scary lullaby. On this episode, we're taking on the things that freak us out. There's biology behind the spooky feeling you get when a horror movie soundtrack plays. Psychologists say fear can be a useful emotion — a warning system — and what prompts us to push past our limits. In healthcare, there's a controversial treatment that asks patients to confront the exact things that cause them fear and pain — and to do those things over and over. Nerve-wracking. Sickening. Facing your fears can be all of that — and sometimes a little thrilling too.

Global Warning

Climate change could transform our planet sooner than we thought. A new report from the United Nations says that just 1.5 degrees Celsius stand between us and dangerous conditions. At risk: our ecosystems and economies, food and water security, homes and lives. So what does this mean? Do we take radical measures to slow down global warming? Or do we hold on to our way of life, and figure out a way to adapt to what's coming? On this episode of The Pulse, we hear about climate action proposals — from carbon capture to zero-waste living — that could help us brace for the future. Also heard on this week's episode: The promise and pitfalls of carbon sequestration — an emerging approach to fighting global warming. A visit to Japan's "zero-waste" town Kamikatsu, which has made green living a way of life. Audio producer Claire Schoen considers the next step in her climate change activism: getting arrested. Biologist Samantha Chapman explains how mangrove trees could help protect our coasts. RAND Corporation policy researcher Benjamin Preston discusses Americans' collective willingness to take the big steps climate activists want — such as abandoning fossil fuels.

Check the Label

Who has time to read the small print — to go over all the "stuff" that's in our food, medicine, or supplements? And what's carrageenan or hexyldecyl laurate anyway? But maybe we should be paying closer attention — some ingredients can cause side effects and make us sick. On this episode of The Pulse, a closer look at some of the things we put in our bodies, and why they matter. We talk to chemists, interrogate food labels, and go on the hunt for hidden ingredients that can have a big impact. Most of all, we ask what it all means for our health. Also heard on this week's episode: Reporter Sruthi Pinnamaneni on the stomach-turning history of food safety regulation in the U.S. The story begins with Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley's grisly experiments — he was the founding father of the Food and Drug Administration. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Deborah Blum reveals what's changed about food safety since the 19th century — and what hasn't. Her new book is The Poison Squad. Water sommelier Martin Riese explains the nuances behind the way water tastes, and why it matters beyond the snobbish world of fine dining. When King George VI and Queen Elizabeth came to visit the White House in 1939, everything had to be perfect — including their tea. The Science History Institute archives reveal how scientists used chemistry to reverse-engineer the perfect London cuppa. ER doc Avir Mitra describes the detective work physicians must do when patients come in suffering from dangerous drug interactions — and no idea what they've taken.

In the Name of Science

Advances in science don't just happen — sometimes, real progress requires heroic measures. On this show, we explore the lengths people go to in the name of science. We hear stories about researchers subjecting themselves to punishing experiments, venturing to remote corners of the earth, and racing against the cosmos for a peek at their subject of inquiry. Also heard on this week's episode: What does it take to convince flat earthers that the world is round? Science YouTuber Kurtis Baute's hunch: a 2,000-year-old experiment. When doctors kept dismissing Imelda Wilde's chronic UTIs, she took science into her own hands. Economist Jay Zagorsky explains the mission behind his bike ride from Seattle to Washington, D.C. — and what he found. In their new book, Sawbones podcasters Sydnee and Justin McElroy tell us about scientists who experimented on themselves (including swallowing diarrhea), so we can enjoy modern medicine today. Noah Strycker spent an entire year traveling to more than 40 countries chasing birds. His goal: to see as many different species of birds as possible.

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