Nell Greenfieldboyce

Nell Greenfieldboyce is a NPR science correspondent.

With reporting focused on general science, NASA, and the intersection between technology and society, Greenfieldboyce has been on the science desk's technology beat since she joined NPR in 2005.

In that time Greenfieldboyce has reported on topics including the narwhals in Greenland, the ending of the space shuttle program, and the reasons why independent truckers don't want electronic tracking in their cabs.

Much of Greenfieldboyce's reporting reflects an interest in discovering how applied science and technology connects with people and culture. She has worked on stories spanning issues such as pet cloning, gene therapy, ballistics, and federal regulation of new technology.

Prior to NPR, Greenfieldboyce spent a decade working in print, mostly magazines including U.S. News & World Report and New Scientist.

A graduate of Johns Hopkins, earning her Bachelor's of Arts degree in social sciences and a Master's of Arts degree in science writing, Greenfieldboyce taught science writing for four years at the university. She was honored for her talents with the Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award for Young Science Journalists.

Pages

Shots - Health Blog
2:36 pm
Tue December 20, 2011

U.S. Says Details Of Flu Experiments Should Stay Secret

H5N1 avian flu viruses (seen in gold) grow inside canine kidney cells (seen in green).
Cynthia Goldsmith CDC

Originally published on Wed December 21, 2011 10:35 am

A committee that advises the government says that details of two controversial experiments on bird flu virus should not be made public, because of fears that the work could provide a recipe for a bioweapon.

The government-funded experiments were done by researchers who wanted to understand if bird flu virus might change in the future to cause a pandemic in people. By tweaking genes, they made the deadly bird flu virus more contagious between lab animals.

Read more
Shots - Health Blog
11:05 am
Thu December 15, 2011

Biomedical Research Using Chimps Should Be Curtailed

Updated 1:30 p.m.: The National Institutes of Health accepts the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine report on chimpanzee research, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said in a statement. "We will not issue any new awards for research involving chimpanzees until processes for implementing the recommendations are in place," he said.

Read more
Research News
2:58 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

No 'God Particle' Yet, But Scientists Say Stay Tuned

This image, from a sensor at the particle accelerator at CERN, is an example of the data signature a Higgs particle might generate. Researchers will spend into 2012 sifting through data in an attempt to find the Higgs.
CERN

Physicists have a grand theory that describes how tiny particles interact to form all the stuff we see in the universe — everything from planets to toasters to human beings.

But there is one particle predicted by this theory that has never been detected in experiments. It's called the Higgs boson. Scientists are dying to know if it really exists — and now researchers are closer to finding out than ever before.

Read more
Animals
2:48 pm
Thu December 8, 2011

Cagebreak! Rats Will Work To Free A Trapped Pal

Science/AAAS

Originally published on Fri December 9, 2011 10:35 am

Calling someone a "rat" is no compliment, but a new study shows that rats actually are empathetic and will altruistically lend a helping paw to a cage mate who is stuck in a trap.

Not only will rats frantically work to free their trapped cage mate; they will do so even when there's a tempting little pile of chocolate chips nearby, the study reveals. Instead of leaving their pal in the trap and selfishly gobbling the candy all by themselves, rats will free their cage mate and share the chocolate.

Read more
Space
5:39 pm
Mon December 5, 2011

Found: Earth-Like Planet That Might Be Right For Life

This artist's conception illustrates Kepler-22b, a planet known to comfortably circle in the habitable zone of a sun-like star. It is the first planet that NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed to orbit in a star's habitable zone — the region around a star where liquid water, a requirement for life on Earth, could persist.
NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

Scientists have discovered a planet not too much bigger than Earth that's circling a distant star that's much like our own Sun. What's more, this planet is in the so-called "Goldilocks zone" around that star — a region that's not too hot and not too cold. That's the kind of place that could be home to liquid water and maybe even life.

The planet, known as Kepler-22b, is the first near-Earth-sized planet to be found smack dab in the middle of the habitable zone of a twin to our Sun.

Read more
Science
12:01 am
Wed November 30, 2011

Complaint Tests Rule Protecting Science From Politics

Originally published on Wed November 30, 2011 12:07 pm

One of the first things President Obama did after he took office was put out a memo that basically said: Don't mess with science.

The March 9, 2009, memorandum stated that "political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions" and said all government agencies should have appropriate rules and procedures to safeguard the scientific process.

Nearly three years later, only a few have finalized new policies — though they're starting to be put to the test.

Read more
Shots - Health Blog
11:10 am
Thu November 17, 2011

Bird Flu Research Rattles Bioterrorism Field

H5N1 avian flu viruses (seen in gold) grow inside canine kidney cells (seen in green).
Cynthia Goldsmith CDC

Originally published on Sun November 20, 2011 11:23 am

Scientists and security specialists are in the midst of a fierce debate over recent experiments on a strain of bird flu virus that made it more contagious.

The big question: Should the results be made public?

Critics say doing so could potentially reveal how to make powerful new bioweapons.

Read more
Space
3:01 am
Tue November 8, 2011

The Plutonium Problem: Who Pays For Space Fuel?

NASA's next Mars rover, Curiosity, seen in this artist's rendering, will use 8 pounds of plutonium-238 as its power supply. That's a significant portion of the remaining space fuel. NASA and the Department of Energy have offered to split the costs of producing the fuel, but Congress has so far opposed that arrangement.
NASA

When NASA's next Mars rover blasts off later this month, the car-sized robot will carry with it nearly eight pounds of a special kind of plutonium fuel that's in short supply.

NASA has relied on that fuel, called plutonium-238, to power robotic missions for five decades.

But with supplies running low, scientists who want the government to make more are finding that it sometimes seems easier to chart a course across the solar system than to navigate the budget process inside Washington, D.C.

Read more
Space
8:00 am
Sat November 5, 2011

Fake Mission Accomplished For Mars500

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, host: Six men in Moscow are readjusting to life on Earth today after enduring a long simulated mission to Mars. They spent 520 days locked inside a fake spaceship. The hatch was opened yesterday.

NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports that this pretend trip involved real psychological challenges that may still persist.

Read more
Animals
3:51 pm
Thu October 20, 2011

What Slew An Ancient Mastodon? DNA Tells Tale

A museum employee stands beneath a mastodon skeleton on display at the U.S. National Museum, now the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, circa 1917. A new study revisits an old debate about the evidence for an early mastodon hunt in North America.

Smithsonian Institution Archives

Originally published on Fri October 21, 2011 9:14 pm

More than 13,000 years ago, hairy elephant-like creatures with giant tusks roamed North America. These mastodons were hunted by some of the earliest people to live here, and scientists recently learned a bit more about those mysterious cultures by taking a new look at an old mastodon bone.

Read more
Environment
6:01 pm
Fri October 14, 2011

Polar Bear Researcher To Be Re-Interviewed By Feds

A researcher who wrote a famous report about dead polar bears is being re-interviewed by federal investigators, who are continuing to probe allegations of misconduct. Above, a polar bear walks on the frozen tundra on the edge of Hudson Bay.

Paul J. Richards AFP/Getty Images

Federal officials continue to probe allegations of misconduct related to a famous report on dead polar bears that raised concerns about climate change. Later this month, officials plan to re-interview one of the two government scientists who wrote that report.

The new development suggests that scientific integrity remains a focus of the investigation, which recently detoured into allegations that the other researcher under scrutiny broke rules related to federal funding of research. Both scientists work for agencies of the Department of the Interior (DOI).

Read more
Animals
10:03 am
Thu October 13, 2011

Naked Mole Rat's Genetic Code Laid Bare

Naked mole rats are becoming more popular in research laboratories, The rodents have surprised scientists with their ability to live up to 30 years and their potential to offer insights into human health.

Eric Gay AP

Originally published on Fri October 14, 2011 7:15 am

Lists of the world's ugliest animals sometimes include the naked mole rat. But scientists who have just analyzed its entire genetic code say this bizarre little creature has an inner beauty — unique traits that could aid research on cancer and aging.

Naked mole rats are neither moles nor rats, although they are naked. They have tiny eyes and piggy noses and have been described as looking like sausages with teeth.

Read more
Shots - Health Blog
2:43 pm
Wed October 12, 2011

Decoded DNA Reveals Details Of Black Death Germ

Victims of the plague are consigned to a communal burial during the Plague of London in 1665.

Universal Images Group Getty Images

Scientists have used DNA lurking inside the teeth of medieval Black Death victims to figure out the entire genetic code of the deadly bacterium that swept across Europe more than 600 years ago, killing an estimated half of the population.

The researchers didn't find any genetic feature that could explain why the plague was so virulent, according to a report just published in the journal Nature.

Read more
Science
3:00 pm
Fri September 30, 2011

Tevatron Machine Will Smash Particles No More

The main ring of the Tevatron, seen in a time exposure. For a quarter century, the particle accelerator at a lab outside Chicago was the most powerful machine of its kind in the world.
Reidar Hahn Fermilab

Physicists who study the most basic building blocks of the universe have just said goodbye to a beloved giant in their field.

Not a fellow scientist, but rather, a machine. A huge device near Chicago called the Tevatron.

For about a quarter of a century, the Tevatron was the most powerful machine of its kind in the world, but scientists gathered Friday to shut it down in a brief and bittersweet ceremony.

Read more
Space
4:03 am
Fri September 30, 2011

Asteroids Pose Less Risk To Earth Than Thought

This picture of the Eros asteroid is the first of an asteroid taken from an orbiting spacecraft. The crater at the center is about 4 miles across.
JPL/JHUAPL NASA

Originally published on Fri September 30, 2011 12:05 pm

Our planet's risk of being hit by a dangerous outer space rock may be smaller than scientists previously thought. That's according to a survey of the sky that NASA is calling the most accurate census yet of near-Earth asteroids.

A NASA space telescope called the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, recently went searching for asteroids lurking nearby — and found far fewer than astronomers had expected.

Read more
Space
12:01 am
Wed September 21, 2011

Where Falling Satellite Lands Is Anyone's Guess

This artist's conceptual image shows the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, or UARS. After two decades in orbit, the satellite will make an uncontrolled re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.
NASA

Later this week, a retired NASA satellite the size of a school bus will finally fall back towards Earth after orbiting the planet for two decades. Most of it will burn up in the atmosphere. But about two dozen pieces are expected to hit the ground — somewhere.

And the biggest piece will weigh about 300 pounds.

If that's got you worried, NASA emphasizes that in the history of the space age, there have been no confirmed reports of falling space junk hurting anyone. But that doesn't mean no one has ever been hit.

Read more

Pages