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

Inside the Minds of Thrill Seekers

Skydiving, BASE jumping, climbing the highest peaks, adventuring to remote parts of the world — pushing the boundaries of safety. For thrill-seekers, chasing the rush is what it's all about. Where lots of us would break into a cold sweat, they experience something different: calm, focus, even moments of sublime awe. So what is it that makes thrill-seekers different? On this episode, we investigate what fuels their desire for adventure, and ask when the pursuit of kicks becomes dangerous and disruptive. We hear stories about storm chasers, rocket builders, and hikers. We also talk to a psychologist who avoids thrills in his personal life, but is deeply invested in understanding why other people love it. Also heard on this week's episode: Meteorologist John Homenuk unpacks the appeal of his greatest passion — chasing storms. We talk with clinical psychologist Ken Carter about what sets thrill-seekers apart from the rest of us. His book is "Buzz: Inside the Minds of Thrill-Seekers, Daredevils, and Adrenaline Junkies." At first, Doran Lamb thought hiking and climbing mountains was a healthy habit, something to replace her addiction to alcohol. But then she realized that it wasn't.

In Sickness and in Health

We all know the vow: "In sickness and in health." But in reality, when serious illness enters a relationship, everything changes. A powerful mix of conflicting emotions can tug on people — love, devotion, grief, guilt, and even resentment. Illness can be a test — a trial by fire — but also an opportunity for growth. On this episode, we hear from couples and families whose lives have been touched by illness and find out how they made it through. How were their relationships transformed? How did they not only survive — but thrive? And what helps people cope, and even appreciate the good moments? We hear stories about how cancer changed the trajectory of writer Delia Ephron's life, the hidden struggles of family caregivers, and how one mother's illness transformed her family's life. Also heard on this week's episode: When writer Delia Ephron lost her husband of more than 30 years to prostate cancer, she thought she'd never love again. But then an acquaintance from her past, psychiatrist Peter Rutter, came along, and everything changed. Ephron's new memoir is called "Left on Tenth: A Second Chance at Life." In the U.S., more than 50 million people serve as caregivers for a family member or loved one — and that number is on the rise. We talk with psychologist Julia Mayer and her husband, therapist Barry Jacobs, about the challenges caregivers face. They are the authors of "AARP Meditations for Caregivers: Practical, Emotional, and Spiritual Support for You and Your Family." Mothers are often the glue that holds the family together — and when they get sick, it upsets the entire system. Reporter Diana Opong tells the story of what happened to one family in the aftermath of a new baby, a cancer diagnosis, and multiple surgeries. Writer Justin Kramon brings us this story of a romantic vacation gone wrong. Elaine Allard was enjoying a trip to Paris to visit her partner, Josh Evans — but a suspicious package, mysterious illness, and Josh's increasingly erratic behavior started to make her wonder if Josh was really the right partner for her.

The Untold Truths about Motherhood and Menopause

How do you sum up the experience of motherhood — all of the changes it brings, big and small? It's a transformation that affects everything — hormones, body image, peer group, feelings, money, career ... even the answers to larger, existential questions like, "Who am I in this world, and what do I hold dear?" On this episode, we'll explore motherhood and the changes it brings. We talk with reproductive psychologist Aurélie Athan about her research into "matrescence" — a term used to describe the multi-faceted transformation ushered in by motherhood — and why it comes as a surprise to so many mothers. Then we pivot to another important time in women's lives that can feel pretty overwhelming — another one of these, "Why didn't anybody tell me about this?" experiences — menopause. OB/GYN Jen Gunter walks us through this complicated and underexplored life stage, and what it means for hormones, lifestyle, health, and sleep. Her book, "The Menopause Manifesto," offers a new and empowering framework for this phase. For more of our conversation with Dr. Jen Gunter, check out this podcast extra.

The Fight Against Extinction

Around the world, at dawn, something magical happens. As the sun rises, nature seems to wake up, and different species break into a chorus of song and call. These "dawn choruses" are one way we experience the rich tapestry of life all around us. But that tapestry is wearing thin, as species disappear from our planet at an increasingly fast rate. On this episode, we take a look at biodiversity — the variety of life on earth. We talk about why it matters, how it's being threatened, and what people are doing to better understand and protect it. We explore the legacy of the late biologist E.O. Wilson, who popularized the term "biodiversity," and speak to conservation scientists about their efforts to protect "biodiversity hotspots." Also, the challenges affecting natural history museum collections, and the fight against the growing threat of species extinction. Also heard on this week's episode: We talk with conservation ecologist and Duke University professor Stuart Pimm about the legacy of his longtime friend and colleague E.O. Wilson, and what it will take to protect and preserve biodiversity on the planet. What does studying biodiversity look like in the field? It starts with data — collecting lots of data. We hear from four students who participated in the "Paint Rock Forest Dynamics Project" and their efforts to tag every tree over a centimeter in diameter in a forest.

The Hidden Powers of Fungi

When you hear the word fungi, chances are mushrooms come to mind: button mushrooms, maybe portobellos, or chanterelles. But so much of the fungi kingdom is invisible — underground — and many say underappreciated. Fungi are vital to life on the planet, but scientists are just beginning to understand their many functions and possibilities. On this episode, we explore the role of fungi in nature, in medicine, and in our lives. We'll talk about sustainable design that utilizes mycelium, discuss how fungi form networks that communicate information, and look at an experimental and unapproved fungi-based treatment people are using to regain their sense of smell. Also heard on this week's episode: Mycologist and mushroom entrepreneur Paul Stamets talks about growing mushrooms in your own backyard. Biologist Merlin Sheldrake discusses the important role of fungi as the planet's "brilliant decomposers," and explains why he loves the idea of having fungi all around us — and inside of us. We visit Vedge Restaurant in Philadelphia to get a crash course on preparing mushrooms from Chef Rich Landau (Pro tip: hold the salt until the very end!) He explains how to cook with different mushrooms, and recalls a time when portobello mushrooms were an expensive rarity. Designer Danielle Trofe talks about the lampshades she grows from mycelium. They're light, velvety to the touch, sturdy, and yet completely biodegradable. Foraging for mushrooms was a "national sport" in the Czech Republic where Barbora Batokova grew up. Now, she brings her love of mushrooms to fans online, where she goes by "Fungiwoman." Her sites feature beautiful photos of mushrooms that she finds in the wild, as well as explanations and tips for identification.

Finding Hope in an Experimental Treatment

Jessie Flynn decided she'd had enough. For years, multiple sclerosis had taken more and more away from her life — her ability to move, her freedom, the job she loved, even her marriage. Now it seemed like medical treatments and physical therapy were no longer halting the illness' progression — it seemed like she was on a rapid slide toward immobility. She wanted hope, and she wanted options. So she decided to try an experimental treatment called HSCT, which is not yet approved in the U.S. It came with great risks and a staggering price tag — which Jessie was willing to take on against her medical team's advice. Many patients find themselves in a similar place; a new treatment promises results, some experts call it a breakthrough — others caution that it's not as good as it seems, or worse yet, a scam that takes advantage of vulnerable people. On this episode, we examine the crossroads where desperate patients and experimental treatments meet.

Parents Know Best — or Do They?

Learning how to be a parent can feel overwhelming, and advice is everywhere. There are the things you're learning from other parents, the things you're reading in books, the things you hear from your pediatrician, from influencers, from your great aunt Margaret ... and in the meantime, you're trying to develop your own instincts as a parent. So who do you listen to? Who's the real expert? And how much do these decisions ultimately matter to the health and well-being of your kid? On this episode — navigating parenting advice, and what science can tell us about raising kids. We dig into advice about sleep, food allergies, how much influence parents actually have on their children, and how to raise kids who aren't a**holes. Also heard on this week's episode: We talk with neurologist and sleep researcher Chris Winter about helpful methods to improve a child's quality of sleep. Winter also discusses today's culprits of poor sleep and how they affect the brain. Winter's books include "The Sleep Solution" and "The Rested Child: Why Your Tired, Wired, or Irritable Child May Have a Sleep Disorder — And How To Help." Danya Glabau knows the world of food allergies firsthand — she was diagnosed in college. Her new book, "Food Allergy Advocacy: Parenting and the Politics of Care," explores this issue from the perspective of parents, who are often forced to become experts fast. In 1998, the late psychologist Judith Harris published "The Nurture Assumption" — a book that made the controversial argument that peers, not parents, are the most important factor in children's development. Reporter Jad Sleiman explores how Harris — an outsider in the field — formulated her argument, and how it eventually went from fringe to more mainstream. Steven Pinker discusses his friendship with Harris, and how her arguments influenced his work. A few years ago, science journalist and mom Melinda Wenner Moyer grew concerned about the bad behavior she was seeing all around her: from bullying and racism to MeToo allegations. How would all of this impact her kids? And how can you raise kids who are kind and empathetic? She started digging into research on how to instill empathy, honesty, and generosity in kids. She explains what she found in her book, "How to Raise Kids Who Aren't Assholes."

The Road to Diagnosis

Getting the right diagnosis can be life-changing. It can mean the end of pain and the beginning of answers; it can mean treatment, a cure — or at least a path forward; or it can just mean validation for everything a patient has been through. Diagnosis is at the heart of medicine — and yet it seems like it often goes wrong. Patients sometimes wait months or even years for answers. They suffer through endless tests, ineffective treatments, overlooked issues — or straight-up misdiagnoses. And for some patients, answers never come at all. On today's episode, we travel down the long and winding road to diagnosis. We get an inside look at how diagnoses are made, what they mean to and for patients, and the challenges doctors face in getting them right. We hear about the dangers of too much testing, the debate over "gaming disorder," and a medical mystery from The New York Times columnist Lisa Sanders. Also heard on this week's episode: Primary care physician Neda Frayha discusses the challenges of making the right diagnosis, the fear of getting it wrong, why it sometimes takes so long to get answers, and why it's okay to cry when you are communicating a tough diagnosis to a patient. We also hear from another primary care physician Jay-Sheree Allen, about the importance of taking a good patient history, and getting comfortable with the unknown. In a perfect world, medical tests help narrow down the possibilities, leading to a diagnosis. But sometimes, the opposite happens — a suspicious finding leads to more tests, which leads to a specialist visit, which leads to scans or x-rays, and on it goes. This is what experts call "a cascade of care" — seemingly endless diagnostics that are time-consuming, anxiety-provoking, not to mention expensive. In this story from the health policy podcast Tradeoffs, Dan Gorenstein explores what's behind cascading care, and what it would take to stop it. The New York Times "Diagnosis" columnist and physician Lisa Sanders shares one of her latest mysteries — and explains why confirmation bias can point health care providers in the wrong direction. The World Health Organization recently added a controversial new illness to its comprehensive manual of diseases: gaming disorder. Reporter Alan Yu looks into why gaming disorder has sparked so much debate, and whether this new diagnosis is actually changing the way patients are treated.

The Generosity Spectrum

When it comes to generosity, there's a wide spectrum in terms of how far we'll go for others. There's buy-your-friends-dinner generosity, donate-to-charities generosity — and then there's give-your-organ-to-a-perfect-stranger generosity. There's generosity that makes us feel good, generosity that happens anonymously, generosity that goes viral on social media, generosity that changes someone's mood, and generosity that changes someone's life. On this episode, we explore generosity — what it is, where it comes from, and how it spreads. We talk with Georgetown psychologist and neuroscientist Abigail Marsh, who studies everything from psychopaths to extraordinary altruists. We hear stories about the role of an altruistic family structure in the Black community and find out how the TV show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is inspiring random acts of kindness. Also heard on this week's episode: When Kelly Schmidt heard about a stranger who was hanging onto dear life as he waited for a donated kidney, she made a spur-of-the-moment decision to help him — by donating one of her own. She'd been a volunteer for an organization called Gift of Life, and had long felt passionate about organ donation — but this was a huge step beyond her previous volunteer work. What motivated this incredibly generous act? We talk to Kelly and the recipient of her kidney, Roc Hyon. Georgetown University psychologist and neuroscientist Abigail Marsh has spent years studying the human spectrum of altruism. She explains what brain scans of psychopaths helped her discover about extraordinary altruists, how the desire for gratitude complicates altruistic motives, and how organ donors felt about The New York Times Magazine's viral story, "Who Is the Bad Art Friend." When Sade Boyewa lost her job due to COVID-19, she took it as a blessing in disguise — and started the Harlem Community Fridge, sparking a movement of generosity across New York City and beyond. But can altruism stirred by the pandemic create lasting change? What would cause strangers who've never met to send each other help, money, and gifts? Just one shared interest: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Alan Yu reports on a close-knit community that's sprung up thanks to a Facebook group for fans of a podcast dedicated to the show, "Buffering the Vampire Slayer."

Noise Annoys

On a technical level, noise and sound are the same thing: vibrating molecules that travel in waves straight to our ears. But when sound is annoying, we tend to call it noise. From garbage trucks to car alarms, shrieking babies to nails on a chalkboard, noise can be really grating and irritating. In fact, some noises are so annoying, so loud, so obnoxious that they can take a toll on our well-being and health. On this episode — part two of our exploration of sound — we take a look at noise, how it affects us, and what we can do to reduce it. We listen to stories about a phantom beep in Brooklyn that had everybody on edge, the quest to quiet hospital alarms, and a day in the life of a noise detective. Also heard on this week's episode: Last fall, a mysterious beeping noise started plaguing Brooklyn Heights — a noise that no one could identify, and no one could find. Reporter Liz Tung tells the story of how a neighborhood came together to track down the phantom beep, and why experts say noise pollution is so bad for our health. This story is based on an article originally reported by Mary Frost for the Brooklyn Eagle, "Search for the mysterious noise in Brooklyn turns into massive crowdsourced investigation." We hear from listeners about their noise pet peeves, from screeching children to ice cream trucks. Alarms in hospitals are supposed to alert staff that a patient is in crisis. But too often, they blare for no reason — in fact, in the majority of cases, they are false alarms. They make patients anxious, disrupt nurses and physicians while they're caring for other patients, and lead to burnout and alarm fatigue. A few years ago, The Pulse met researcher and pediatrician Christopher Bonafide from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He was determined to find ways to change alarms in hospitals. We check back in with him to find out what he's learned. We also speak to nurse Meghan McNamara, who is a safety and quality specialist at the same hospital and participated in this research. We hear, too, from Joe Schlesinger, a physician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and a musician who has created a series of new alarms that contain layers of important information. Alan Fierstein has an unusual job: He's an "acoustic consultant," aka a noise detective, who spends his days tracking down unwanted sounds in the noise capital of the U.S., New York City. Reporter Jad Sleiman follows Fierstein around for a day as he hunts noise in the Big Apple.