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.

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Shots - Health Blog
9:49 am
Thu February 16, 2012

The 'WHO's Who' Of Virologists Meet To Talk Bird Flu In Geneva

Virologists and other scientists are meeting at the World Health Organization's Geneva headquarters to talk about the bird flu.
Pierre Virot WHO

A closed-door summit on controversial bird flu research starts today, and the newly released guest list reveals that the event will be dominated by virologists.

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Shots - Health Blog
3:52 pm
Wed February 15, 2012

Scientists Debate How To Conduct Bird Flu Research

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

Originally published on Tue February 21, 2012 3:58 pm

Scientists working with bird flu recently called a 60-day halt on some controversial experiments, and the unusual move has been compared to a famous moratorium on genetic engineering in the 1970s.

But key scientists involved in that event disagree on whether history is repeating itself.

"I see an amazing similarity," says Nobel Prize winner Paul Berg, of Stanford University.

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Health
10:01 pm
Sun February 12, 2012

Scientists Take Cautious Tack On Bird Flu Research

A government veterinarian worker sprays anti-bird flu disinfectant over birds and fowls at Medan city market in North Sumatra province. Indonesia reported its second human death from bird flu this year in late January.
AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Mon February 13, 2012 9:24 am

Last month, scientists around the world agreed to temporarily halt certain genetic experiments with bird flu viruses. More than three weeks of that 60-day moratorium have already passed. And the scientific community is in the midst of a fierce debate about what needs to happen next.

The suspension of the research came in response to fears that researchers had created dangerous new germs that could cause a devastating pandemic in people if they ever escaped the lab or fell into the wrong hands.

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Shots - Health Blog
7:42 am
Thu February 9, 2012

International Meeting On Controversial Bird Flu Research Draws Near

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

The World Health Organization has just one week left to prepare for a highly anticipated meeting on controversial bird flu research. One official says that 22 invitations have gone out and the WHO is still waiting to hear back from some of the invitees.

Recent experiments involving the H5N1 bird flu virus have caused a furor in the science community, and the WHO was urged to convene an international discussion.

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Shots - Health Blog
12:08 pm
Fri January 20, 2012

Researchers Agree To Temporary Halt For Bird Flu Experiments

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

Originally published on Mon January 23, 2012 1:41 pm

Scientists have said that they are voluntarily putting some controversial bird flu research on hold.

The move to suspend the work for 60 days comes in response to critics who say their work is dangerous.

People rarely get sick with bird flu, caused by the H5N1 virus, and when they do, they're generally not contagious.

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Research News
10:01 pm
Sun January 15, 2012

Labs Size Up New Guidelines For Rodent Cages

The standard rat cage used in the U.S. (right) has 140 square inches of floor space. One interpretation of the new guidelines says this cage wouldn't be big enough to hold a male rat, a female rat and their babies. Instead, labs would have to house the rat family in a larger cage, like the 210-square-inch one on the left.
Courtesy of Joseph Thulin Biomedical Resource Center, Medical College of Wisconsin

Scientists do experiments with millions of rats and mice each year, to study everything from heart disease to cancer to diabetes. Recently, some new recommendations about how to house female lab rodents and their babies caused an uproar, with experts at major research institutions now saying they're unsure of what they'll have to do to keep their government funding.

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Science
3:54 am
Sun December 25, 2011

Trees In Trouble: Grim Future For Frankincense

Frankincense comes from the Boswellia sacra tree, which grows mainly in the Horn of Africa. The number of trees that produce the fragrant resin could decline by 90 percent in the next 50 years.
scott.zona flickr

The original Christmas presents were gold, frankincense and myrrh. That's what wise men brought to the baby Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew. Frankincense is still used today — for perfumes, incense and traditional medicines — but a new study suggests that its future looks grim.

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Shots - Health Blog
11:11 am
Fri December 23, 2011

Critics Say Obama's Efforts To Protect Science Are Slow and Weak

Did politics trump science when it came to Plan B?
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Originally published on Tue December 27, 2011 9:00 am

Critics cried foul when Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the Food and Drug Administration earlier this month, saying that teenage girls can't buy the emergency contraceptive plan B without a prescription. Their complaint: That the move went against the Obama administration's stated goal of protecting science from the taint of politics.

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Shots - Health Blog
12:36 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 8:35 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.

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Shots - Health Blog
9:05 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.

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Research News
12:58 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.

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Animals
12:48 pm
Thu December 8, 2011

Cagebreak! Rats Will Work To Free A Trapped Pal

Science/AAAS

Originally published on Fri December 9, 2011 8:35 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.

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Space
3:39 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.

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Science
10:01 pm
Tue November 29, 2011

Complaint Tests Rule Protecting Science From Politics

Originally published on Wed November 30, 2011 10:07 am

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.

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Animals
1:51 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 7:14 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.

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Environment
4:01 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).

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Animals
8:03 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 5:15 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.

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Shots - Health Blog
12:43 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.

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Space
2:03 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 10:05 am

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.

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Space
10:01 pm
Tue September 20, 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.

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The Two-Way
10:30 am
Wed September 7, 2011

Though Shuttles Are Retired, NASA Needs More Astronauts, Panel Says

The Mercury 7, NASA's original astronauts, in 1959. More than 50 years later, the agency still needs astronauts — and in fact needs a few more than it has — a panel says.
NASA Getty Images

NASA needs to hire a few more astronauts. That's according to a panel of outside experts enlisted by the agency to review the size of the astronaut corps now that the space shuttles are retired. (The panel's report is posted here.)

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Science
10:01 pm
Mon September 5, 2011

A Final Smash For America's Giant Particle Collider

A view inside the Tevatron ring, currently in its final days as a particle superhighway.
Reider Hahn Fermilab

A physicist named Dmitri Denisov walks up wooden steps to the top of something that looks sort of like an abandoned railroad bed.

"Wow, look, it's beautiful," Denisov says, gazing out at a pond. "I didn't even know about these flowers."

The tall mound of dirt he's standing on stretches off into the distance, forming a huge circle nearly four miles around — and the inside of this ring is filled with acres of restored prairie.

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Science
2:14 pm
Thu September 1, 2011

Polar Bear Scientist Was Accused By Federal Worker

Originally published on Thu September 1, 2011 5:05 pm

The controversial "polarbeargate" investigation into Arctic researcher Charles Monnett originated when allegations of scientific misconduct were made by a "seasoned, career Department of the Interior" employee.

That's according to a new letter sent to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) from the Department of the Interior's Office of Inspector General.

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Environment
3:16 pm
Thu August 25, 2011

'Polarbeargate' Scientist To Head Back To Work

Two polar bears spar on the shoreline of the Hudson Bay in November 2007.
Paul J. Richards AFP/Getty Images

The polar bear scientist who has spent more than a month suspended from his government job has now been told that he should report back to work on Friday — although NPR has learned that his job is changing and he will no longer manage federal contracts.

"Chuck is planning to go to work. He just doesn't know what the work is going to be," says attorney Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which is providing legal representation for wildlife biologist Charles Monnett.

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Science
10:01 pm
Mon August 22, 2011

'Shrimp On A Treadmill': The Politics Of 'Silly' Studies

"Shrimp on a treadmill" has become a euphemism for questionable government spending on scientific research. The actual research study was focused on how water quality affects a shrimp's performance.
Lou Burnett College of Charleston

Biologist Lou Burnett was recently in his car when his cell phone rang. It was a CNN reporter, asking about the fact that his research had been featured in a new report about wasteful government spending.

That was news to Burnett, who works at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. "I was pretty irritated," he recalls.

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Space
3:58 pm
Mon August 22, 2011

Giant Camera Will Hunt For Signs Of Dark Energy

A look inside the Dark Energy Camera shows the 74 blue-tinged sensors that detect light. The camera will survey distant, faint galaxies to learn more about dark energy.
Reidar Hahn Fermilab

Originally published on Mon August 22, 2011 4:54 pm

A giant and powerful digital camera is about to be shipped from a lab near Chicago to a telescope in Chile to study a mysterious part of the universe called dark energy.

Dark energy makes up most of our universe, but scientists currently know almost nothing about it except that it seems to be making the expansion of our universe speed up.

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Science
12:10 pm
Wed August 17, 2011

Fresh Allegations Leveled Against Polar Bear Scientist

The polar bear researcher who was suspended from his government job last month has received a new letter from investigators that lays out actions he took that are described as being "highly inappropriate" under the rules that apply to managing federal contracts.

According to the letter, wildlife biologist Charles Monnett told investigators that he assisted a scientist in preparing that scientist's proposal for a government contract. Monnett then served as chair of a committee that reviewed that proposal.

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Science
10:01 pm
Tue August 9, 2011

Polar Bear Scientist Faces New Questions

A Polar Bear walks on the frozen tundra on the edge of Hudson Bay waiting for the Hudson Bay to freeze-over 14 November 2007 outside Churchill, Mantioba, Canada. Polar Bears return every year to Churchill, the Polar Bear capital of the world, where they remain hunting for seals on the icepack until the Spring thaw.
Paul J. Richards AFP/Getty Images

A wildlife biologist is continuing to face questions about an influential paper he wrote on apparently drowned polar bears, with government investigators reportedly asking whether he improperly steered a research contract to another scientist as a reward for reviewing that paper.

"They seem to be suggesting that there is some sort of conspiracy that involves global warming and back scratching that appears to be frankly just nuts," says Jeff Ruch, a lawyer with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

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Space
11:32 am
Wed August 3, 2011

Early Earth May Have Been Orbited By Two Moons

This artist's illustration shows a collision between the moon and a companion moon. Scientists say the collision could be responsible for the moon's asymmetric shape.
Martin Jutzi and Erik Asphaug Nature

The early Earth had two moons instead of just one — our familiar moon, as well as a smaller companion moon that also rose and set in the sky for tens of millions of years.

That's according to a new theory that says this smaller moon eventually went careening into our moon and is still there, in the form of mountains on its far side.

Scientists have long puzzled over those mountains, and the fact that the two sides of our moon are very different. The near side has flat lowlands, while the far side is high and mountainous.

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