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

Science and Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving usually means we're going big — way over the top. Twice as much turkey as we could possibly eat; more side dishes than the table can hold; and, of course, so much pie. We travel great distances to see our families and friends — we hug, we eat, we argue, and we nap. On this special episode of The Pulse, we explore the traditions and rituals of Thanksgiving through a scientific lens. We hear stories about the neuroscience of gratitude — and how it can help us through grief; the environmental impact of our holiday feasts, from cranberries to food waste; and ask whether turkeys are really as dumb as they look. Also heard on this week's episode: Turkeys have a reputation for being big, dumb birds. But are they? And what does it mean for a bird to be smart anyway? Reporter Alan Yu explores. Jad Sleiman introduces a New Jersey family that does all their food shopping at local dumpsters. They are among a tiny minority of people fighting global food waste. We hear about how this problem affects the environment — and what we can do about it. We chat with Yale GI specialist Earl Campbell about what happens inside of our digestive tract when we overeat. Reporter Nina Feldman on her annual Friendsgiving tradition, and why it's come to mean more than she ever thought it would.

The Science of Policing

Police forces in democratic societies are supposed to safeguard the rights of citizens, and protect their lives and well-being. We think of their role in terms of laws, rules, and regulations — but ultimately, so much of what they do is about psychology and human behavior. It's about how people react to threats, what they do when they panic, and how far a person will go when they feel they have nothing left to lose. What does behavioral science say about these situations? Could research help predict people's behavior, and suggest effective and safe tactics? We take a look at what role behavioral science could play in creating better police forces, from crowd control to foot patrol and adding female officers to departments. Also heard on this week's episode: Retired police officer Larry Kniceley recalls a routine traffic stop that could have ended his life. We speak with researchers Judith Andersen and Karen Quigley about what could help officers make solid decisions under a lot of pressure. Why do so many cops love BANG, a high-octane caffeine drink?

It's About Time

December 30, 2011 never happened in Samoa. The island nation in the South Pacific skipped this day, to move ahead into a different time zone. We change our clocks to start and stop daylight saving time. We travel across time zones. Time, in many ways, is a human construct. We have chosen ways to measure it, to parse it out, to track it. But time is also an experience that can vary wildly from one moment to the next — the minutes that stretch endlessly, the hours that fly by. On this episode, we explore time — how we measure it, how we experience it, and how it bends and warps in our minds. Also heard on this week's episode: What is time, really? It depends on whom you ask! It could be measured in the time it takes to cook rice, or down to the millisecond, as measured by an atomic clock. Kevin Birth, professor of anthropology at Queens College of the City University of New York, discusses how we measure time, and how that has changed over the course of the centuries. Is time travel possible? Will it ever be? Reporter Kathleen Davis checks into it. We hear from John Norton, a professor of the history and philosophy of science at the University of Pittsburgh. We explore the experience of déjà vu. We hear from Eva Hall who has déjà vu frequently, and Roderick Spears, a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania. We take a look at a lesser-known book by Michael Ende, author of "The Neverending Story." "Momo" tells the story of a young girl who fights back against an evil empire of time thieves. Journalist Giulia Pines tells us why she loves this book and what it has taught her about time. Claire Drexler, a grief therapist at the Center for Loss and Bereavement in Skippack, Pa., joins us to discuss how grief changes our experience of time. We also hear from Sol De Heras and Jared Michael Lowe, who talk about their personal experiences with grief and time. We also put together a playlist with songs about time, you can find it on Spotify.

Challenging the Norm

Every culture, workplace, group, and family has its norms — its standards, the way things are done. Norms govern everything from relationships to driving to making coffee. But how does something become the norm? On this episode, we explore how things and behaviors become "normal," and what happens when we challenge those norms. We hear stories about dog crates and why they are embraced in the U.S., but reviled in other countries; why sleeping through the night isn't as standard as you might think; and how conservation efforts are challenging America's lobster fishermen to change how they do their work. Also heard on this week's episode: Sleeping through the night might be ideal — but historians and scientists say it's probably not natural. Reporter Steph Yin explores how our sleeping habits have changed, and a small subculture that's exploring alternative ways of getting some shuteye. Pediatrician Harvey Karp talks about what got him thinking about infant sleep, and prompted him to write his best-selling book "The Happiest Baby on the Block." The North Atlantic right whale will go extinct if we don't change our ways, but proposed conservation efforts could put New England's lobstermen out of business.

Fake vs. Real — And When It Matters

There was a time when seeing was believing — but that's changing, thanks to new technology that's elevating fakery to a whole new level. In an ever-growing world of synthesized realities, how do we tell what's real from what's fake? And when and why does it matter? We explore that question on this episode, with stories about deepfakes — a new kind of fake video, powered by artificial intelligence; lab-grown meat in our pets' food; and fake laughter. Also heard on this week's episode: Reporter Susie Armitage explores fake laughter in its natural habitat — comedy open mics. We hear about how up-and-coming comics learn to tell real laughter from fake, and how our evolutionary past explains that ability... along with our tendency to chuckle when things aren't remotely funny. What happens when a piece of information shatters everything we believe to be true? Reporter Molly Schwartz explores that question with the story of Austin Lane Howard, a devout Jehovah's Witness whose doubt eventually pulled him away from the church. We talk with Lydia Pyne, author of "Genuine Fakes," about everything from lab-grown diamonds to replicas of famous historical sites.

Hair and our Health

Hair can be our crowning glory, a big part of our identity, and a tool for self-expression. We shave it, style it, cut it, dye it — and sometimes, hope for it to come back. We obsess over its texture and length. While products help, how our hair looks is related to DNA, to hormones, and to our immune system. On this episode, we look into the connection between our health and our hair. We hear stories about the chemicals in hair dyes, treatments for baldness, and certain aspects of hair that can become an obsession. Also heard on this week's episode: We've put a man on the moon — so why can't we cure baldness? The Pulse's Jad Sleiman explores why baldness so difficult to treat ... and what could finally work. Erin Wall is one of opera's most sought-after classical sopranos. But when she lost her iconic blond locks to cancer treatment, Wall had to get comfortable with a new onstage persona. KUOW's Eilis O'Neill tells the story of Geneva "Gigi" Myhrvold, who started pulling out her hair as a child. Gigi explains how she deals with trichotillomania, and what helps her get the urge to pull under control. Internist Neda Frayha says female baldness comes up in her practice a lot, but she cautions patients to be careful with expensive vitamin products that promise relief. WOSU's Paige Pfleger on why public health officials in Columbus, Ohio are making use of barbershops to help spread the word about infant mortality. When Amy Silverman's daughter was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, Amy had many questions — and one of them was whether her daughter would ever have curly hair.

Gut Feeling

You know when you get butterflies in your stomach? Or your gut clenches with fear? Or the way a gory movie can fill you with nausea? Those feelings exist because of a special connection between our heads and our tummies called the gut-brain axis. On this episode, we explore how that connection works, the strange effects it can have on our stomachs (and our minds), and why scientists are creating "guts on chips" that mimic our digestive systems. Also heard on this week's episode: About 16 years ago, Robin started getting sick: she experienced nausea, a sudden urge to go to the bathroom, even passing out on a train. Doctors had no idea what was going on — until, finally, she got a diagnosis — IBS. Reporter Alan Yu explores the history of this mysterious illness, why it's so difficult to diagnose, and the unexpected treatment that doctors have discovered. Number two is not what you might call polite conversation. In South Korea, however, poop is a celebrated part of life, and asking people if they've had a bowel movement yet is no big deal. Reporter Matthew Schneeman talks with some locals about how this cultural difference plays out in real life. The interactions between the brain and the gut are really complicated and difficult to tease apart. We hear from Abigail Koppes, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Northeastern University, who is designing research platforms she calls "guts on a chip." The goal is to isolate different cells from the human body, and understand exactly how they talk to each other. Morgan Steele Dykeman started dieting when she was 12 years old. By college, she was limiting her food intake to less than 500 calories a day. Carbs were the enemy, and bread, especially, was a forbidden food. She describes her recovery, and relearning how to eat bread without shame and guilt — and without her stomach being in knots. Alexander Charles Adams felt nauseous for months. Throwing up became a daily part of life, which led to anxiety and depression. We hear about Alexander's medical journey through this digestive nightmare, and what turned out to be the culprit.

The Anatomy of Sadness

Sadness seemingly comes out of nowhere sometimes: a song, a photo, a movie scene, a memory, and there it is. Your heart seems heavy. Tears well up in your eyes. What is happening in the brain when we feel sad? We delve into this complex emotion, and explore how we experience it, and how we deal with it. From tears shed at the gym after a serious workout, to crying in public, and sad songs that help us cope with tough times. Also heard on this week's episode: Sometimes, it seems like kids cry over just about anything — but other times, they surprise us with a deeper sadness: sorrow for others, existential angst, or despair over unfairness in the world. When do kids begin to experience this kind of profound, complex sadness? How common is it? Reporter Steph Yin digs deep into the landscape of children's sadness. Can sadness make us more creative? Reporter Gisele Regatao talks with author Said Sayrafiezadeh about his experiences with sadness and writer's block. Why do people pay good money to go to an exercise class that makes them cry? We investigate the SoulCycle-crying connection. We look into public crying, and why New Yorkers say it's a bonding experience. We hear from Shaina Feinberg, who has made a map of all the places where she's cried. We think of sadness as something we want to avoid — but then why do we love sad songs so much? We talk with neuroscientist Matt Sachs about the sad songs we love and how they help us through tough situations.

Man-Made Worlds

It was supposed to be a paradise. A parcel of wilderness, reminiscent of the past, where birds and large grazers would find refuge. Conservationists fought hard to create this sanctuary, but things didn't go as planned. Soon, animals were dying, and humans were fighting over the future of the reserve. People have long tried their hand at creating their own worlds, and on this episode, we explore why we do this, and what happens next. We hear stories about nature conservation gone wrong, the therapeutic potential of VR, and talk to a neuroscientist who says all of us are trapped inside a world of our own making. Also heard on this week's episode: Reporter Nathan Miller plays Ingress — an augmented reality game that superimposes a science fiction universe onto the real world... in this case, Detroit. Neuroscientist Beau Lotto challenges us to rethink our perceptions, and what we think of as the "real" world.

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.

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