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

New Problems

In the decades after the Civil War, the nation was changing rapidly. Cities were industrializing, the railroad was expanding, business was booming in many places — people were busy! Life in the fast lane seemed to have an impact, giving rise to a condition that soon became known as neurasthenia. Some of the symptoms were fatigue, irritability, and digestion problems. Today, we would probably call this stress, or burnout. Each time period has its own problems that people try to name, and get under control. Often, new inventions come with unintended consequences. On this episode, we look into the new problems of our times, and what we're doing about them. Is vaping still a good strategy to quit smoking? Can clunky electronic health records be fixed? We also find out what therapists know about helping people who need to be online for their jobs, and are targeted by trolls. Also heard on this week's episode: Many people have used vaping as a way to quit smoking. But then we started hearing about a mysterious lung illness that's put more than 2,000 people in the hospital, and killed more than 50. Since then, there's been a backlash against vaping — with some claiming that it could be just as unhealthy as smoking regular old cigarettes. Is that true? Reporter Liz Tung — who recently traded Camels in for mango-flavored e-cigarettes — investigates. Journalist Beth Gardiner talks about the global impact of air pollution. Her new book is "Choked: Life and Breath in the Age of Air Pollution." Asthma rates are on the rise across the U.S., but the problem is especially dire on reservations. Reporter Eilís O'Neill visited the Navajo Nation to see how asthma is affecting families and children there. Her reporting was funded in part by the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism's National Fellowship and by the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism. Technology means constant distractions, or reminders that something else needs to be done right now. We jump from task to task, or get sucked into social media. When do distractions lead to mistakes? We talk with researchers Samuel Murray from Duke University and Santiago Amaya from Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá. Electronic Health Records were supposed to make it easier to manage patient information, and to avoid mistakes. Instead, many health care providers complain that they are clunky to use, and interfere with treatment. Reporter Camille Petersen explores if they can they be fixed.

Psychedelics and Therapy

After a decades-long hiatus, researchers are taking a fresh look at the potential of psychedelics in therapy. Could substances like ketamine, MDMA, psilocybin, and LSD help people with depression or PTSD? What are the risks? We explore the recent explosion of psychedelics research, and hear from people who have tried them to treat mental health issues. Also heard on this week's episode: Many people report having breakthroughs in therapy when using psychedelics, in part because they gain new perspective on an issue. Scientists call this "cognitive flexibility." Neurologist turned teacher Judy Willis describes how she encourages that skill in her classroom, without the use of psychedelics. Last year, the FDA approved a ketamine-based nasal spray to be used for treating severe depression. Reporter Claire Tighe looks into how ketamine addresses depression, and how the nasal spray is impacting patients. Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, joins us to discuss the history and future of psychedelics research. MDMA is being used in treating PTSD, and some researchers say it also has a role in couples therapy. Brian Earp, co-author of "Love Drugs: The Chemical Future of our Relationships" discusses how the substance works in tandem with therapy. Sandor Iron Rope lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and is part of the Native American Church. The church uses peyote in religious ceremonies. Sandor is wary of the scientific exploration of psychedelics, because he worries it will lead to the exploitation of a traditional and sacred Native American resource.

Vision 2020

The New Year is often a time for a fresh start. We reflect on our past habits, and resolve to do better — eat healthier, work harder, or work less, and spend more time on the things that really matter. We set goals and create new visions for our best possible lives. Usually, though, come February, most of us are back to our old habits and routines. But some people actually manage to succeed at making their visions a reality. How are they doing it? What have they learned? And what can we learn from them? Also heard on this week's episode: We hear from scientists about what they plan to do differently in 2020. We talk to author Scott Fedor about his experience persevering through a devastating accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. His new book is called "Head Strong: How a Broken Neck Strengthened My Spirit." As an inmate at California's Solano State Prison, Gordon Melvin's life revolved around drinking, dope, and violence — until a yoga program on PBS transformed his body, mind, and life. This story is from the KALW series "Uncuffed," produced by people inside Solano and San Quentin State Prison.

The Future of Trees

Humans have a close relationship with trees. We plant and cultivate them for food and shelter. Trees offer protection from the rays of the sun. We relax and seem to breathe more deeply in their presence. And of course, we couldn't breathe at all without trees — since they act as the "lungs of the earth," converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. On this episode, we explore our relationship with trees, and the shifting give-and-take in a changing world. We hear stories about how climate change is affecting our forests; what it's like to live in a tree; and how science is trying to bring a near-extinct tree back to life. Also heard on this week's episode: How is climate change affecting trees? Unlike animals, they can't migrate when the going gets tough — which is why reporter Alan Yu says some humans are giving trees a hand at moving house. For more than a century, American chestnut trees have teetered on the edge of extinction, due to a disease called the "chestnut blight." But now, after decades of work, scientists have come up with a solution — a genetically engineered chestnut tree that's resistant to the blight. Supporters say it could revive the species — so why are some critics saying it could destroy America's forests? Liz Tung reports. What's it like living in a tree? We find out from Nate Madsen, a lawyer and environmental activist. In the late 90s, he spent two years living in a redwood tree to save it from loggers. Air pollution from highways can affect people's health. Could trees help? WABE reporter Molly Samuel talks with a researcher who's studying which trees are best at blocking pollution. California forest fires seem to get bigger and more destructive every year. But climate change isn't the only culprit — 150 years of bad forest management have changed the very structure of the wildlands, and not for the better. According to scientists, what they actually need is more fire and maybe a little help from some forest-loving lumberjacks. Daniel Merino reports.

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.

The Hidden Lives of Dentists

Being a dentist can be a lonely job. Your patients don't want to be there — and even if they did, it's not like they can talk with their mouths open. Most dentists are solo practitioners, and many feel isolated. And, even though oral health is very important to our overall well-being, dentistry is totally separate from the rest of medicine. But there is a very active Facebook group where dentists can talk shop, connect with each other, ask for help, complain, and compare notes. So — what's worrying dentists? In this episode, we look at some of the forces that are disrupting and changing dentistry. We hear about the rise of SmileDirect — and why brick and mortar dentists and orthodontists are upset about the new mail-order system. We learn about the skyrocketing cost of dental school, and what it means for future dentists. And we find out what advancements are changing the field, from startups to cutting-edge tech. Also heard on this week's episode: We talk with health care reporter Mary Otto about the rise of dental therapists, and what they have to do with economic inequality. Otto also discusses the dentistry-medical divide. She is the author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America." We call up internist Neda Frayha to find out how primary care providers tackle the issue of oral health. How often do they ask their patients about whether they're seeing a dentist? Reporter Will Stone takes us to the University of Washington in Seattle, where surgeons and dentists are using technology to revolutionize how we reconstruct the mouth. Nobody likes going to the dentist — but a new start-up is trying to change that. Matthew Schneeman reports on a new startup called Tend. Their tagline: "Look forward to the dentist."

The Changing Roles of Nurses

The roles of nurses have changed and expanded a lot in recent decades. Nurses are highly specialized, they have branched out into new areas of medicine. Still, nurses remain on the front lines of patient care. They communicate with doctors, relay patient wishes, and address family concerns. On this episode, we look into how nursing is changing, and how that's affecting patient care. We hear about nurses fighting for limits on how many patients they're assigned; find out what it's like to be a school nurse in the age of active shooter drills; and talk to nurses who are getting involved in climate change issues for the sake of their patients. Also heard on this week's episode: Reporter Alan Yu explores how climate change is affecting public health — and what nurses are doing about it. Sexual assault examinations are crucial for criminal prosecutions — but not all ER nurses know how to do them. Reporter Stephanie Marudas heads to one hospital in rural Pennsylvania that's using technology to connect forensic nurses with expert practitioners who can walk them through the process. Nursing historian Patricia D'Antonio of the University of Pennsylvania discusses nurses' role in advocating for public health reforms and social change. From RNs and LPNs, to NPs and DNPs, there's a veritable alphabet soup of nursing specialties. We talk with a range of nurses to get a glimpse of what they do.

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.

Back To Top