52 episodes

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

The Pulse WHYY

    • Science

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

    Why We Need Friends — Especially Now

    Why We Need Friends — Especially Now

    We rely on our friends for all kinds of things — companionship, laughter, and right now — support in times of crisis. But it’s only recently that scientists have started investigating how friendship works, and why it matters to our health and well-being. On this episode, we explore the anatomy of this unique bond, with stories about what happens when friendship turns romantic, the painful experience of bestie breakups, and how friendships can form between unlikely animal pairings.

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    Science journalist Lydia Denworth discusses why friendship is essential to our health and to our survival. She is the author of “Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond.”
    Dakota Fisher-Vance and Cara Scharf were both diagnosed with cancer in their early 20s. They talk to us about how being young adults with cancer brought them together, and why having a shared illness has made their bond stronger. They are the co-founders of Young Adult Cancer Connection.
    Do friendship apps actually work? Reporter Buffy Gorrilla takes us on a journey as she navigates different apps while looking for friendship in Australia.
    Some animals form something akin to what we think of as friendship. It’s usually animals that live in “stable, bonded social groups,” like primates or whales. But sometimes, friendships happen with animals that aren’t usually candidates for that kind of relationship. Liz Tung reports on an unlikely friendship between two bears at the Philadelphia Zoo.
    We also created a mixtape of all of our favorite songs about friends. Check it out on Spotify or press play below.

    • 49 min
    Slowing the Spread of COVID-19

    Slowing the Spread of COVID-19

    Communities around the world are scrambling to slow the spread of COVID-19: closing businesses and schools, canceling gatherings, and limiting social interactions. Some countries and cities have even gone on almost total lockdown. On this episode, we hear about different measures to stop the virus, and how they’re affecting people. We hear about the impact of medical quarantine, how more aggressive testing could slow the spread, and why some ER doctors think they’re not doing enough to keep the virus in check. We also get an update on COVID-19 vaccine research.

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    We are asking people all around the country to start sending us little time capsules of their lives as the coronavirus spreads. If you can record yourself on your smartphone and tell us how your life is changing, please be in touch with host Maiken Scott, mscott@whyy.org
    Regular Pulse contributor and ER doctor Avir Vitra tells us about how medical professionals are dealing with the COVID-19 spread, and whether the medical system is prepared for this kind of pandemic.
    Sheri Fink, a New York Times correspondent and executive producer of the Netflix series, “Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak,” explains why testing is so crucial for both public health officials and anyone who thinks they may have been exposed to the virus. Fink, who won Pulitzer Prizes for her investigation into a New Orleans hospital in the days after Hurricane Katrina and for her reporting during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, also offers advice on how to stay safe and sane during the pandemic.
    Reporter Cris Barrish takes us to one of the country’s first drive-through testing sites, and talks to patients who suspect they may have been infected.

    • 48 min
    Working Memory

    Working Memory

    Think about the millions of details stored in your memory: what you had for breakfast; how to get to work; the smell of lavender; your first kiss; a great vacation; how to calculate percentages.

    So much of our existence is based on our memory. All of the small and big things we accomplish and do every day tap into this system. But how does memory work? Why do we remember some things and not others? On this episode, we look at memory. We hear stories about what scientists say happens to our earliest childhood memories; people who cultivate a practice of remembering their dreams; and a new therapy that uses the senses to improve recall among people with dementia.

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    Michael Yassa, professor of neurobiology at the University of California Irvine, explains what we know about how memories are stored and accessed in our brains.
    We look into the “jukebox” in our heads that stores thousands of songs and melodies — and seemingly plays them at random.
    We explore the relationship between creativity and memory with Kevin Paul Madore, a research psychologist at Stanford University. We need memory to be creative, but sometimes it can be a tricky partner when we’re trying to come up with something brand new.

    • 48 min
    Changing Treatments

    Changing Treatments

    Medicine is always changing. New treatments become available. Old ones become obsolete. But how does a treatment become established? How long does it take for science to get from research bench to bedside? And how do patients decide what is best for them? On this episode, we take a look at how patients and health care providers navigate the constantly changing world of medical treatments.

    We hear stories about how Accelerated Resolution Therapy [ART] became a hot new trauma therapy; one family’s wrenching decision over scoliosis surgery; and health care journalist Kate Pickert’s personal journey through modern breast cancer treatments.

    Also heard on this week’s episode:


    Health care journalist Kate Pickert wrote several stories about breast cancer over the years — but when she was diagnosed herself, she realized that a lot of what she thought about treatment was wrong. Pickert wrote “Radical: The Science, Culture, and History of Breast Cancer in America.”
    Physician Jeff Brenner set out to revolutionize how health care is delivered to some of the country’s sickest patients. His goal: to give patients who were using the ER for health care easy access to primary care. But was his approach successful? We chat with Dan Gorenstein, host of the health care podcast “Tradeoffs.”

    • 48 min
    Outbreak 1793

    Outbreak 1793

    COVID-19 — a coronavirus disease — is spreading around the world, putting people and governments on high alert. How will we respond to this crisis in the U.S.? Are we prepared? Can we contain the spread and treat those who are sick?

    As we grapple with these questions, this special edition of the Pulse, Outbreak 1793, takes a look back to another time when this nation battled a major infectious disease epidemic.

    It happened in 1793 in Philadelphia, which was the nation’s capital at the time. In the sweltering heat of summer Yellow Fever began to spread, claiming lives at a rapid pace. Those who could flee left the city. Those who remained were panicked. Who or what was to blame? And who would fall victim next?

    Hosts Maiken Scott and public health historian Michael Yudell visit different parts of historic Philadelphia that played an important role during this Yellow Fever epidemic. We’ll meet the people who stayed to fight the illness and learn about the important public health changes that happened as a result of this crisis. This outbreak marked the beginning of public health in America, and led to the kinds of policies and changes that still protect populations today.

    • 27 min
    The Anatomy of Sadness

    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.

    • 49 min

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