Joe Palca Receives 2018 Robert Fletcher Award

April 5, 2018

The Robert Fletcher Award is given annually to a graduate or friend of Thayer School in recognition of distinguished achievement and service in the highest tradition of the School. The award is named in honor of Robert Fletcher, who was appointed by Sylvanus Thayer as the School's first professor of engineering and its first director (1871–1918).

The Dean of Thayer School chooses each year's award recipient who then traditionally delivers Thayer School's Investiture speech.

A science correspondent for National Public Radio since 1992, Joe Palca has covered stories ranging from astronomy to zoology. In his current series, "Joe’s Big Idea," he probes the minds and motivations of scientists and inventors. As he puts it on Facebook, "My Big Idea is to share the fascination of science. I run a network of scientists called Friends of Joe's Big Idea (FOJBI). My goal is to connect young scientists and help them become better communicators."

Palca himself pursued science as a young man. Having majoring in psychology at Pomona, he earned a PhD in psychology in 1982 from the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he focused on human sleep physiology. That same year he began his journalism career in television, working as a health producer for the CBS affiliate in Washington, DC. In 1986 he switched to print journalism, first as the Washington news editor for Nature, and then as a senior correspondent for Science Magazine before turning to NPR in 1992. In 1999 he was a Kaiser Family Foundation Media Fellow studying human clinical trials, and in 2009, he served as Science Writer in Residence at the Huntington Library and Gardens in California. In 2011 he and fellow science writer Flora Lichtman co-authored the book Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us.

Palca’s numerous awards include the National Academies Communications Award, the Science-in-Society Award of the National Association of Science Writers, the American Chemical Society James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public, the American Association for the Advancement of Science Journalism Prize, and the Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Writing.