Gabriel Spitzer

Health & Science Reporter / Sound Effect Host / Assistant News Director

Gabriel Spitzer covers health and science at KPLU, and hosts KPLU's weekend program Sound Effect. He joined KPLU after years covering science, health and the environment at WBEZ in Chicago. There, he created the award-winning mini-show, Clever Apes. Having also lived in Alaska and California, Gabriel feels he’s been closing in on Seattle for some time, and has finally landed on the bullseye.

Gabriel received his Master's of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and his degree in English at Cornell University. He’s been honored with the Kavli Science Journalism Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and won awards from the Association of Health Care Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists and Public Radio News Directors, Inc. He lives in West Seattle with his wife Ashley and their two sons, Ezra and Oliver.

Gabriel’s most memorable KPLU moment was: “In just my second week here, I found myself covering the unfolding story of a mass shooting and citywide manhunt. It was a tragic and chaotic day, when the public badly needed someone to sort the facts from the rumors. It made me proud of our profession.”

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Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has revealed what he’s calling a “grand bargain” to ease the city’s affordable housing crunch, and it relies on a series of carrots and sticks for developers.

The heart of the plan is a proposal to let developers build bigger buildings in exchange for creating thousands of new affordable units, and charging new fees on commercial developments.

There's always interesting stuff in the news that gets overshadowed by the big stories. On Sound Effect we invite a panel a journalists to talk over their nominees for under-covered story of the week. 

This week Alex Hudson of the news and politics blog Seattlish noted that even though the heat wave is all anyone can talk about, there are dimensions of it that haven't gotten the attention they deserve, such as the outsize hazard heat poses for homeless people. 

"The city of Seattle has extreme weather plans that relate to cold weather, and there are no real plans that relate to hot weather," she says. 

AP Images

Last month was the driest June on record for the wettest part of Washington State.

The Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park got .17 inches of rain last month. That’s less than half the previous record low from 1961 and well under the four inches that falls in an average June.

Ranger Jon Preston collects daily measurements at the visitors center there. He says the region started drying out in May. 

Tracey Croisier

When Tracey Croisier was five years old,  she began having seizures. 

Her family was living in Taiwan.  By the time she was nine, they had moved back to the United States. Her parents took her to a doctor. He explained to the family that her condition, epilepsy, was so severe it would prevent Tracey from ever driving, holding a job or living independently. 

And then the expert added that she should never have kids.

Smithsonsian Institute

UPDATE:  After DNA testing confirmed the 8,500-year-old Kennewick man was ancestor of modern Washington tribes, Gov. Jay Inslee sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requesting that the remains be returned to Native American tribes.

A pair of college students discovered the skeleton near Columbia River and Kennewick in 1996. The U.S Army Corp of Engineers took control of the bones that are the oldest human remains discovered in North America. Recent DNA analysis proved that the Kennewick man is genetically linked to modern Native Americans.

“Now that DNA analysis has demonstrated a genetic link to modern Native Americans, including those in the State of Washington, I am requesting that the Ancient One be repatriated to the appropriate Tribes as expeditiously as possible,” Inslee wrote in a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers.

“Our Washington State tribes have waited nineteen years for the remains to be transferred for reburial.

Original Story, published June 18, 2015:

Scientists say they’ve pinned down the origins of a man who lived in the northwest about 9,000 years ago, and their conclusion is the same as what Washington tribes have been saying since the bones’ discovery: Kennewick Man was Native American.

Kennewick Man, known to the tribes as the Ancient One, has been fought over since his discovery in 1996. Researchers have suggested he came from Japanese, Polynesian or even European stock.

But Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen says DNA pulled from a hand bone now makes it clear where Kennewick Man belongs in the world’s family tree.

“Kennewick Man, the Ancient One, is more closely related to contemporary Native Americans than to any other contemporary populations in the world,” said Eske, speaking at a press conference at the Burke Museum in Seattle.

The museum has housed the bones while five Washington tribes have been fighting the federal government over control of the remains. They believe the new finding bolsters their case that Kennewick Man should be given to them, under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Gabriel Spitzer

In 2004, the city of Seattle installed five, high-tech, self-cleaning public toilets at a cost of $5 million. The toilets -- which opened at the push of a button disinfected themselves automatically -- were hailed as public service that would need little in extra staff hours to maintain.

It didn't turn out exactly like that.

Paradise Fire Incident Management Team

A smoldering fire in Olympic National Park flared up over the weekend, scorching at least 600 acres before heavy smoke and inaccessible terrain made the blaze too hard to measure.

In what is usually the wettest area of the lower 48 states, parts of the rainforest landscape have turned to tinder this year and set the stage for the rapid spread of the Paradise Fire.

“What’s actually carrying the fire are the lichens in the very tops of the trees. They're so dry that they’ll actually carry fire, and so the fire is jumping through the tree canopies,” said Donna Nemeth, an information officer with the Fire Incident Team made up of National Park Service and National Forest Service personnel.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

  Many will tune in to the U.S. Open golf championship in University Place for the grace of a perfect swing or the elegance of a golf ball’s arc. But people at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center hope you will also watch for the science at the heart of the game.

At the Science Center’s exhibit, “Learning Science through Golf,” you can see how much force it takes to make a four-foot putt or measure the volume of a golf club head by dunking it in a beaker of water. You can even learn what it takes to maintain healthy turf grass in the northwest climate.

Juno Theraputics

Seattle-based scientists are reporting more encouraging results from treating blood cancer patients with souped-up immune cells.

The trial, part of a larger study by Seattle-based biotechnology Juno Therapeutics, involved about 50 people with three different types of blood cancer. Patients in this type of trial typically have not responded to the usual treatments, and are nearly out of options.

Scientists from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center re-engineered the patients’ immune cells and injected them back into their bodies. Dr. Cameron Turtle of Fred Hutch reported Monday that 91 percent of those with acute lymphoblastic leukemia went into remission.

Courtesy of Lloyd Pernela

"Sound Effect" is your weekly tour of ideas, inspired by the place we live. The show is hosted by KPLU's Gabriel Spitzer. Each week's show explores a different theme, and this week we hear stories about the promise and the perils of self-government. 

We begin with the tale of a short-lived utopian society, right in the heart of Seattle. In 1962, a mysterious island rose, inexplicably, out of the waters of Lake Union. That gave a group of UW students an idea. Gabriel Spitzer tracks down one of the ringleaders of their plot, half-a-century later, to learn about the epic rise and tragic fall of Chelan Island. 

file photo


For food writer Nancy Leson, “comfort food” means Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews. This Philadelphia-based regional candy is made of peanuts suspended in molasses covered in dark chocolate.

For me, that’s not an appealing description, and the proud declaration on the package that they “originally served as a WWI ration bar” doesn’t help. But for Nancy, they mean something different.

Courtesy of the Burke Museum

  Washington State has its first dinosaur.

Researchers at the Burke Museum say they excavated a weathered, 80 million year old thighbone from a beach on Sucia Island in the San Juans. It is the first verified dinosaur fossil ever found in Washington.

Workers at a South King County psychiatric hospital are walking off the job Thursday, one day after another unit of the same SEIU Healthcare local staged a one-day strike at a Bellingham hospital.

Nurses and other workers at Cascade Behavioral Health in Tukwila say they’re protesting stalled contract talks and inadequate staffing. Carol Myers, a detox unit nurse, says when the private company Acadia took over the former non-profit hospital, it cut staffing levels in the geriatric psych unit.

“These people are fall risks and incontinent and you need additional staff in order to keep these people clean. And that’s really overwhelming for the amount of staff that they’re given,” she says.

Cascade CEO Michael Uradnik says the staffing ratio is safe and up to industry standards. He says he’s still hopeful the sides can reach an agreement.

“I’d have preferred if they hadn’t done it, absolutely. Does it make me further entrenched and more bitter? No. This is part of what you want to do, that’s fine. It’s a one-day action. After [Thursday] we’re going to get down to negotiating again,” he says.

The hospital plans to remain open during the one-day strike, with replacement workers trained to step in.

Dean Hochman / Flickr

A group of allergy researchers in Seattle is releasing new recommendations that mark a complete turnaround from the conventional wisdom on when to introduce peanut products to babies. The guidelines come in the wake of a recent major study.

Doctors used to say parents shouldn’t let kids even try peanuts until age three. The American Academy of Pediatrics dropped that advice after incidence of peanut allergy continued to climb, quadrupling between 1997 and 2010.

University of Washington

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a smartphone app to test for sleep apnea, a common but potentially serious sleep disorder.

People with sleep apnea struggle with or stop breathing while they sleep. It affects up to 18 million Americans according to the National Institutes of Health. But getting diagnosed tends to be expensive and invasive. UW grad student Rajalakshmi Nandakumar says it generally involves an overnight stay at a sleep lab, in a less-than-restful setting.

In December of 1872, an earthquake shook the Pacific Northwest so hard that a Seattle resident described watching near-tidal waves roil Lake Union.

And it wasn’t just Seattle; the quake shook from Eugene, Oregon to Canada. It triggered a landslide near Wenatchee that briefly dammed the Columbia River.

For years, geologists couldn't pin down the quake's source. But now they think they've found it: A previously unknown fault near Entiat on the east side of the Cascades.

"So we had this big earthquake but no one could put their finger on where's the fault that's responsible," said Brian Sherrod, a paleoseismologist with the US Geological Survey.

A paleoseismologist studies ancient earthquakes. Sherrod said the source of the massive quake has baffled scientists for decades. Guesses placed the epicenter everywhere from Sedro-Woolley to Lake Chelan to British Columbia.

Presage Biosciences

A Seattle company hopes its device will accelerate the development of cancer drugs by letting scientists test multiple drugs simultaneously within a person’s living tumor.

The device, called a CIVO, uses eight micro-needles to inject a tumor with microdoses of multiple cancer drugs. Doctors then would be able test the effects of eight different drugs at once, saving research time.

“What CIVO enables you to do is to have essentially multiple shots on goal,” said Rich Klinghoffer, Chief Scientific Officer of Presage Biosciences which developed the CIVO from research at the Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Province of British Columbia / Flickr

The federal government has moved a step closer to designating the northern spotted owl an endangered species. The owl has been listed as threatened for a quarter-century, but its numbers continue to decline. The California-based Environmental Protection Information Center, or EPIC, petitioned to have the owl reclassified, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said this week that its initial review justifies considering that request. It will publish official notice Friday.

A change in the owl’s status might not have a huge effect on regulations, which were overhauled as part of the Northwest Forest Plan during the 1990s. But EPIC legal coordinator Tom Wheeler said the change would strengthen the regulators’ hands.

  "Sound Effect" is your weekly tour of ideas, inspired by the place we live. The show is hosted by KPLU's Gabriel Spitzer.

Each week's show explores a different theme, and week, we push some boundaries.

"Sound Effect" is your weekly tour of ideas, inspired by the place we live. The show is hosted by KPLU's Gabriel Spitzer.

Each week's show explores a different theme, and this time around, it’s tales of lost and found.

Jake Schultz

If you ever drive through Seattle-area traffic, you may have had some version of this thought: “I wish my car had wings right now.”

The flying car is a symbol of mid-century optimism about the future, and it seemed almost inevitable at the time that, sooner or later, we’d have them. Obviously, that hasn’t happened. But we actually came a lot closer to getting them than you might think, thanks to a Washington man named Molton Taylor and his Aerocar.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Washington State’s insurance commissioner has opened up a multi-state investigation into Washington’s largest insurance carrier, Premera Blue Cross, after a data breach left 11 million customers’ private information exposed to hackers.

Premera says it found out about the hack on January 29, and the company disclosed it publicly on March 17. So the first thing Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler wants to know is, what took so long?

“Why did it take six weeks before you notified the primary regulator? I want to know why we didn’t know earlier, so that we can make sure that everything that can be done is being done to protect the consumer’s interest,” Kreidler said in an interview.

Eric Bridiers / U. S. Mission General

"Early in 2015, Shin Dong-hyuk changed his story.”

Stuart Herbert

If you’re a parent, this is not news to you: Kids love the swings. So much, in fact, that little kids seem to be able to swing endlessly, for 20 or 30 or 40 minutes, without tiring of it a bit.

I observed this in my own children and, having liked the swings himself as a lad, decided to hop on one as a thirty-something dad.

Tim Bouwer / Flickr

What does it mean to age? When are we "over the hill?" And what are the side effects of a longer lifespan?

On our most recent episode of Sound Effect on KPLU, we explored the idea of aging with Dr. Dan Gottschling. 

William Walker / University of Washington, Dept. of Bioengineering

Seattle-based researchers have developed a synthetic substance that might help prevent some severely injured people from bleeding to death. The injectable polymer is designed to make blood clots stronger, forming a kind of bandage that can stem or stop bleeding, even from internal wounds. Blood loss is the second leading cause of death following a trauma, such as a crash or gunshot.

City of Seattle Community Tech / Flickr

Somali immigrants living in Washington hope the federal government will help them restart the flow of money to relatives in Somalia. Those remittances have ground to a halt since a California bank announced last month it would stop handling them.

That leaves an uncertain future for many families in Somalia who depend on money from relatives abroad. Mohammed Jama, executive director of the Abu Bakr Islamic Center in Tukwila, said in the devastated Somali economy, his relatives have hardly any income.

Courtesy of Quiet Planet

On an April morning in 2011, Gordon Hempton awoke to sunshine. Spring was unfolding outside his Indianola house, and yet all was quiet.

“And I thought, ‘Well, this is kind of funny,” Hempton recalls. “’The birds should be singing.”’

Hempton says he was reminded of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” and wondered if something strange had happened to the birds in his neighborhood. He turned to his partner, Kate.


New findings by University of Washington scientists could change the timeline of how life evolved on Earth, and maybe on other planets, too.

The research has to do with nitrogen, a crucial ingredient of life. Scientists had believed usable nitrogen was in very short supply on the young planet, without the enzymes needed to break it down.

Courtesy of Danny Cords

When Danny Cords’ parents learned he was gay, they took him to a conversion therapist.

“One of the first things he wanted to try to figure out was whether I was a top or a bottom, which, of course, are sexual positions,” Cords says. “And I was 14. I had no idea. I hadn’t had sex, so I didn’t know what to say and he wanted to figure it out. So it was incredibly uncomfortable.