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October 6, 2003

Awards and Honors

Alumnus Joe Palca wins National Academies Communication Award

Joe Palca, science correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR), has been chosen to receive a National Academies Communication Award for excellence in communicating science, engineering, and medicine to the general public. Palca, who earned a Ph.D. in psychology at UCSC in 1982, will receive a $20,000 cash prize and will be honored at a presentation ceremony in November.

Palca has worked at NPR since 1992, covering everything from biomedical research to the Pathfinder landing on Mars. He recently interviewed his UCSC thesis adviser, professor emeritus of biology Ralph Berger, for a story marking the 50th anniversary of the discovery of REM sleep. Palca wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on how people maintain their body temperature during REM sleep. (The story and excerpts from Palca's dissertation are available on the NPR web site.)

Palca's sleep research story, which aired on NPR's Morning Edition on October 2, is uncharacteristically autobiographical. Nevertheless, it is a good example of the kind of reporting that has earned him several awards and honors during his career as a journalist. Full of sly humor, the story manages to be thoroughly entertaining while conveying a lot of interesting information about the science of sleep.

Palca is a past president of the National Association of Science Writers. He spent a year in 1999-2000 as a Kaiser Family Foundation Media Fellow studying human clinical trials. In 1998, he received the American Chemical Society's Grady-Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public (the first radio reporter to win this award). Before joining NPR, he worked as a television health producer and as an editor and writer for Nature and Science magazines.

The presentation ceremony for the National Academies award will take place on November 14 during the academies' Keck Futures Initiative Conference in Irvine, Calif. Palca will discuss his winning work in a panel session at the conference.

This is the first year the National Academies have given the Communication Awards. The academies consist of four organizations: the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council. They are independent bodies that provide advice to the government on issues of science and technology.
-by Tim Stephens

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