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The Pulse

Health & Wellness Podcasts

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

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


United States


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








The Magic of Energy

Energy fuels our lives in ways that seem almost magical. It can transform darkness into light, cold into warmth, water into ice. Of course, it’s science — not magic — but like magic, there are rules that must be followed. One of the fundamental laws of physics is that energy can never be created or destroyed, only converted from one form to another. On this episode, we explore what these rules mean for our quest to create new power sources, and for life on earth. We hear stories about what...


Public Health and Trust

Over the past year, public health officials went from being the people who nudge us not to smoke, not to drink and drive, and to eat our veggies, to being a highly visible arm of government involved in calling a lot of the shots: which businesses could stay open and which had to close; who could go to work or be in school; ordering people to cover their noses and mouths. Public health became powerful. Many people looked to them to keep all of us safe — others have felt suspicious and...


What We Believe

“Trust the science!” It’s a phrase we’ve heard a lot during the pandemic. It’s come to mean things like “wear masks” or “get vaccinated,” but the phrase rubs many people the wrong way — including some scientists. One of the fundamental tenets of science is to be skeptical, and to keep digging deeper and deeper into a topic until something closer to the truth emerges. But sometimes it doesn’t emerge — sometimes we reach a deadlock, leading to fierce arguments in which both sides believe they...


The Puzzle of Personality

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Open to new experiences, or comforted by routine? Shy or the life of the party? Figuring out what makes us tick is an important part of understanding how we function within our families, communities, and workplaces. Thousands of tests online promise to assess your personality — but what are they actually measuring? Where does personality come from, how does it form, and where does it live? On this episode, we explore the science behind how we become who...


Healthcare Behind Bars

More than 2 million people in the U.S. are incarcerated — and tens of thousands have had COVID-19. The pandemic has brought more attention than ever to the barriers to healthcare in prisons and jails. But this has been a problem since long before COVID-19. Incarceration stamps lasting effects on people’s health, and sends ripple effects beyond the prison walls, into the lives and health of people living on the outside. On this episode, we look at incarceration and its long-term impact on...


Laughing Matters

There’s not a lot to laugh about right now. But throughout the pandemic, we’ve managed to joke about our shared misery — like making fun of toilet paper hoarding, Zoom mishaps, and mask mumbling. Humor helps get us through tough times. It’s a crucial coping mechanism, a way of connecting with others, and part of what makes us human. On today’s episode, we explore humor — what makes us laugh, how it works, and the important roles it plays in our lives. We hear stories about inappropriate...


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...


Sending Signals

The modern world is made possible by a web of electromagnetic radiation. Your phone, computer, TV, cable box, radio — all depend on millions of signals zipping past each other every second. As more and more devices and inventions rely on these signals, this highway of information is getting crowded. We explore this unseen world and some of the new issues that are emerging. We hear stories about how scientists are dealing with this increasingly crowded radio spectrum; who has access to...


What Will It Take to Diversify Medicine?

Who becomes a physician in this country — and who never gets that chance? It’s a question a lot of medical schools are grappling with, as groups like Black people and Latinos remain especially underrepresented among students. What would it take to attract and retain a more diverse group of students? On this episode, we hear stories about people’s path to med school, and the challenges they face along the way. We learn about a major push to increase diversity that happened in the 90s — and...


Taking Our Best Shot

Throughout the darkest hours of this pandemic, the world kept its gaze trained on the light at the end of the tunnel: a vaccine. Just over a year into the pandemic, we have three — but even solutions can present their own problems: ethical dilemmas, like who should be vaccinated first; logistical bottlenecks, like how to get the vaccine to over 300 million people; and even some basic questions — like how long the immunity from vaccines will last. On this episode, we explore some of the...


Bird Talk

When you are walking around in the forest, the park, or even the city, do you ever listen to the songs of birds? Really tune in, and listen? What are they telling each other? Scientist Erich Jarvis says bird whistles can teach us a lot about the ability to learn language. He studies how the brain controls spoken language. He joins us for this bonus episode with a discussion on animals that can learn language, animals that can’t, and much more.


The Species We Save

Humans have long tried to mitigate their own destructive impact on the planet through conservation efforts. Often, those efforts are attached to one iconic species or another — the majestic bald eagle, cuddly cute baby seal, or awe-inspiring blue whale. But is this about them, or is it about us? On this episode, we take a closer look at conservation, and dig into the human motivations and emotions behind it. We hear stories about a near-extinct fish called the delta smelt — and whether it’s...


The Science of Schooling

School closures during the pandemic have pushed education for millions of kids into a virtual setting. The sudden changes have caused some people to rethink our educational system. Why do we do things the way we do? Based on what researchers have discovered in recent decades about the brain and how we learn, do our current approaches actually make sense? Are they based on evidence or tradition? And is it time for a revamp? On this episode, we look at what research can tell us about the way...


The Hidden Force Shaping Drug Prices

Every time you get a prescription drug, you’re dealing with a middleman you’ve probably never heard of — one who has had a hand in how much your drug costs. The same middleman decides which drugs are covered by your insurance, and even which medications are prescribed by your doctor. Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) are powerful and important companies that have become connectors between pharma, insurance companies, pharmacies, and consumers. But many critics say they’ve become too powerful,...


The Science of Love

What is love? Is it that warm and fuzzy feeling, that crazed obsession, that deep sentiment of trust and good will? It’s all of those things, but where and how does love happen in our bodies? On this special episode, we put love under the microscope (and into a brain scanner) to understand where this emotion begins, and where it takes us. We talk with neurologists and psychologists to get a better understanding of the feeling that can turn us into heroes, fools — or both. Also heard on...


Shaping the Future

When we think of “the future,” it sounds like something abstract and faraway — we imagine new inventions, cutting-edge innovations, life on other planets. But the future can also be frightening. This past year has been a stark reminder of how quickly life can change, and how little we control. So which is it — a world that we shape, or one we’re propelled towards? On today’s episode, we explore the future — our worries and anxieties about it, our relationship with our future selves, and our...


Who We Are at Core

Who are you? There are dozens of ways to answer that question, from your name and nationality, to your relationships and job, all the way down to the nature of your soul. But the more we zoom in, the more the self can feel like an impressionist painting — from afar, you see distinct shapes, but the closer you look, the more it dissolves into a million tiny pieces. So what is the self really? What is it that makes us who we are? On this week’s episode, we explore what scientists are learning...


The Miracle and Menace of Plastic

Plastic gets a bad rap — over the years, it’s become synonymous with environmental destruction, cheap fakery, needless consumption, and mass-produced junk. But there’s a reason plastic is everywhere — it’s inexpensive, strong, and versatile; a shapeshifter that over the past century has revolutionized the way we live, from science and medicine to consumer goods. So, what exactly is it that makes plastic both a miracle and a menace? On this episode, we explore the science behind the dual...


What’s Best for Our Pets

Owning a pet means making decisions that affect their health — from what they eat, to whether and how much they exercise, to how they spend their days. Some of those decisions are easy — should we get our yowling cat fixed? — but others are wrenchingly tough — how much is too much for lifesaving surgery? On this episode, we explore some of the emotional, financial, and ethical dilemmas that come with owning a pet. Among the conundrums we explore: Should cats be let outside? When is it OK to...


Chasing Happiness

The pandemic has changed the way a lot of us understand and experience happiness. In normal times, we think of happiness as a big-picture goal — a guiding principle for making decisions. Will this job make me happy? Will this relationship make me happy? Will starting a family, or moving, or switching careers make me happy? But over the past few months, as our lives have increasingly been shaped by restrictions, loss, and fear, many of us have had to reexamine what happiness means, and how...