52 episodes

Listen to full episodes of WHYY’s health, science and innovation program, The Pulse.

The Pulse WHYY

    • Science
    • 5.0 • 5 Ratings

Listen to full episodes of WHYY’s health, science and innovation program, The Pulse.

    The Building Blocks of Language

    The Building Blocks of Language

    Language is how we connect — to each other, to the past, to the future — how we create culture, communicate ideas, and make decisions. Scientists are keen to discover more about how language works, and how we actually learn to talk. On this episode — why do some species have language, and others don’t? What can bird whistles teach us about the mechanics of language? What happens when the ability to communicate is disrupted? Also, a look at language itself, and how the internet is changing the way we communicate.

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    We listen back to a story about aphasia reported by Elana Gordon. The neuroscientist she interviewed, Roy Hamilton, is currently studying the use of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to help people with post-stroke aphasia. This is a large, clinical trial supported by the NIH. You can find more information here.
    Language is changing faster and faster thanks to the internet. We talk with linguist Gretchen McCulloch about how those changes are happening, and how she keeps up. Gretchen is the author of “Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language.”








    Erich Jarvis studies how language works in human and other species. He joins us to talk about everything from regional “dialects” in some birds, to the relationship between dance and language.

    • 48 min
    New Developments in Cancer Treatment

    New Developments in Cancer Treatment

    It seems like every week, we hear about new breakthroughs in cancer treatment — new discoveries, new medications, new hopes for a cure. The war on cancer has been a slow and steady grind, with incremental progress that’s been built one study, one breakthrough at a time.

    Behind each of those small but meaningful victories are years of unseen work — lifetimes spent studying specific cells, protein structures, gene mutations, and more.

    On this episode, we take a look at some of the latest breakthroughs in cancer treatment, and the personal stories behind them. We hear about the tradeoffs with new lung cancer screenings, find out how immunotherapy is advancing, and talk with a veteran of cancer research about the big wins and grating frustrations.

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    Veteran oncologist and researcher Otis Brawley offers an overview of America’s war on cancer. Brawley, a ​​professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, explains where we’ve made progress — and where we haven’t.
    Screening people who are at high risk for lung cancer can lead to earlier detection, and much better outcomes. Dan Gorenstein from the podcast Tradeoffs looks into why not enough people are getting screened, and what doctors are doing to change that.

    • 48 min
    The Aftermath of Viruses

    The Aftermath of Viruses

    Left to their own devices, viruses are pretty much helpless. They need cells to infect in order to replicate. But they’re sneaky — many of them also manage to stick around long after we think they’re gone. When the immune system sets out to kill infected cells, many viruses hide and continue to cause problems. This aspect has come into much sharper focus during the pandemic, with thousands of people suffering serious symptoms months after first being diagnosed with COVID-19.

    On this episode, we explore viruses — how they affect our bodies, and what happens when they stick around. We hear from a physician who’s treating long-haul COVID-19 patients, and find out from an immunologist how viruses manage to avoid and evade our body’s defense system. We’ll also explore how new research into the after-effects of viruses could benefit many people who are suffering with other little-understood conditions.

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    What fascinated immunologist Carolina Lopez about viruses is how they are simultaneously so powerless and mighty. They can’t do anything without cells to infect — but once they manage to do that, they can inflict so much damage. Carolina explains what we know about how viruses manage to evade the body’s immune system, and what their continued presence could mean.
    What can be done for the long-suffering COVID-19 long-haulers? We talk with internist Neda Frayha about how she is helping patients who are coming to her with this post-viral illness.
    Viruses are always inside of our bodies, infecting our cells. Researcher Eric Delwart explains how sometimes that can work to our advantage.

    • 49 min
    The Secret History of Mars Exploration

    The Secret History of Mars Exploration

    Humans have been obsessed with Mars for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that we began to have actual breakthroughs in our journey to Mars. In July of 1965, NASA’s Mariner 4 captured high-definition pictures of Mars. It was at this point that we began to better observe and explore the red planet. But there is a hidden and sinister history of how NASA got here.

    Jordan Bimm, historian of science technology and medicine, joins us to talk about Mars jars, the Cold War space race, and the German scientists with Nazi ties who helped the United States in the early days of NASA’s space program.

    • 13 min
    Destination: Mars

    Destination: Mars

    For thousands of years, humans have obsessed over Mars from afar. At first, maybe it was the fact that Mars stands out in the night sky because of its reddish color. But as we learned more about Mars and the conditions there, it was the possibility of life on this distant planet that captured our collective imagination. At its closest, Mars is nearly 40 million miles away from Earth — and we’ve tried for centuries to bridge that distance, using everything from telescopes to flybys and probes. Mars has inspired wild fantasies about distant civilizations and little green men. It’s put a spell on many observers, who hope to unlock its mysteries. On this special episode of The Pulse, we explore what we are learning about Mars, and when we can expect to actually see humans set foot on the red planet.

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, talks about our attempts to get closer and closer to the red planet, the important work that’s being done by the Mars rovers, and what it would take to land humans on Mars.
    Some people called it the next great leap in space exploration — others, a suicide mission. But for Dan Carey and Leila Zucker, Mars One was a dream come true. Spearheaded by a Dutch company, Mars One aimed to land ordinary people on Mars by the year 2023, where they’d start the red planet’s first human colony. There was just one catch — it was a one-way trip … and survival was not guaranteed. Reporter Liz Tung talks with Carey and Zucker about what made them want to leave their lives on Earth, and start new ones on Mars.
    We talk with science historian Jordan Bimm about “Mars jars” and the group of exobiologists — scientists who study extraterrestrial biology — who spearheaded early research about life on Mars.

    • 49 min
    The Undercurrent of Anxiety

    The Undercurrent of Anxiety

    Anxiety can feel like a buzzing electric current that fuels our thoughts and behaviors. There are the well-known symptoms — chest pains, rapid heartbeat, constant fidgeting, shortness of breath, nausea — but anxiety can also be sneaky, rearing its head in all different ways. For instance — maybe it shows up in the way you check your phone constantly, worried that a friend who hasn’t texted back has gotten in a car accident. Or it manifests in your constant chatter at the office, trying to mask the fact that you feel uncomfortable around others. Or it’s the endless doctor’s visits, trying to find some kind of physical reason for why you’re not feeling well.

    On this episode, we explore the undercurrent of anxiety so many of us feel, how it impacts our behaviors, and what we can do about it. We hear stories about the unexpected relief from anxiety that some people have felt while working from home during the pandemic, the relationship between anxiety and uncertainty, and advice on how to get through it. We also hear how Maiken Scott attempts to reduce her own over-the-top startle response.

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    Primary care physician Neda Frayha often sees patients who have different symptoms — pain, headaches, dizziness — but test after test finds that nothing is wrong. By all measures, the person is healthy, but they’re just not feeling well. How can she help these patients? Neda discusses what’s called somatic symptom disorder with psychiatrist Melissa Shepard.

    • 49 min

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