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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1:11pm

Wed May 7, 2014
Shots - Health News

Chemists Expand Nature's Genetic Alphabet

Originally published on Tue June 10, 2014 8:59 am

Being able to insert the two man-made letters into DNA, alongside the usual four-letter alphabet, could teach old cells new tricks and lead to better drugs, researchers say.
courtesy of Synthorx

For the first time, scientists have expanded life's genetic alphabet, by inserting two unnatural, man-made "letters" into a bacterium's DNA, and by showing that the cell's machinery can copy them.

The advance means that scientists have a new tool for exploring how life encodes information, which could help them understand life's origins.

What's more, this is a step towards giving living cells new abilities, like being able to make more and better medicines, cheaper and faster.

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2:02pm

Thu April 17, 2014
The Two-Way

Scientists Spot A Planet That Looks Like 'Earth's Cousin'

Originally published on Thu April 17, 2014 7:06 pm

An artist's rendering of Kepler-186f, the first validated Earth-size planet to orbit in the habitable zone of a distant star.
T. Pyle NASA/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

Scientists who have been hunting for another Earth beyond our solar system have come across a planet that's remarkably similar to our world.

It's almost the same size as Earth, and it orbits in its star's "Goldilocks zone" — where temperatures are not too hot, not too cold, and maybe just right for life.

But a lot about this planet is going to remain a mystery, because it's 500 light-years away.

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8:40am

Sun April 13, 2014
The Two-Way

Climate Change Adjustments Must Be Fast And Major, U.N. Panel Says

Originally published on Mon April 14, 2014 6:33 am

The world must cut its greenhouse gas emissions to meet its goals, climate experts said Sunday. Members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (left to right) Youba Sakona, Ramon Pichs Madruga, Ottmar Edenhofer and Rajendra Pachauri hold copies of their new report in Berlin.
John MacDougall AFP/Getty Images

A new report from the United Nations' panel on climate change says major action is needed, and fast, if policymakers want to limit global warming to acceptable levels.

There's an international target to control climate change: keeping the global temperature rise to just 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — that's 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change now says it's technically possible to meet that goal. But doing so will require rapid, large-scale shifts in energy production and use.

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2:06pm

Thu April 10, 2014
Shots - Health News

Scientists Publish Recipe For Making Bird Flu More Contagious

Originally published on Fri April 11, 2014 2:13 pm

Street vendors sell chickens at a market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in early 2013. Last year Cambodia reported more cases of H5N1 bird flu than any other country.
Mak Remissa EPA /LANDOV

The Dutch virologist accused of engineering a dangerous superflu a few years ago is back with more contentious research.

In 2011, Ron Fouchier and his team at Erasmus Medical Center took the H5N1 flu virus and made it more contagious. Now the team has published another study with more details on the exact genetic changes needed to do the trick.

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12:45pm

Thu April 3, 2014
The Two-Way

Smithsonian's Air And Space Museum To Get $30 Million Spiffier

Originally published on Thu April 3, 2014 6:34 pm

Where's the moon rock? Curators say national treasures are often overlooked in the museum's current display, which hasn't changed much since 1976.
National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution

Throngs of museum-goers mill through the grand entrance hall of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., every day, gawking at such treasures as the Apollo 11 capsule that carried Neil Armstrong's crew to the moon and back, as well as Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis airplane.

But the famous Milestones of Flight exhibit hasn't significantly changed since the museum opened in 1976.

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10:23am

Wed April 2, 2014
Shots - Health News

Ethicists Tell NASA How To Weigh Hazards Of Space Travel

Originally published on Thu April 3, 2014 6:55 am

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Aki Hoshide makes a space walk outside the International Space Station in 2012.
NASA Getty Images

NASA is hoping to soon venture out farther into space than ever before. But these long journeys mean astronauts could face greater risks to their physical and mental health than the space agency currently allows.

Now, an independent group of experts convened by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, has weighed in on how NASA should make decisions about the kinds of risks that are acceptable for missions that venture outside low Earth orbit or extend beyond 30 days.

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2:01pm

Wed March 26, 2014
The Two-Way

New Dwarf Planet Found At The Solar System's Outer Limits

Originally published on Thu March 27, 2014 7:44 am

This diagram for the outer solar system shows the orbits of Sedna (in orange) and 2012 VP113 (in red). The sun and terrestrial planets are at the center, surrounded by the orbits (in purple) of the four giant planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The Kuiper belt, which includes Pluto, is shown by the dotted light blue region.
Scott S. Sheppard Carnegie Institution for Science

Scientists have spotted a new dwarf planet at the edge of our solar system. It's a kind of pink ice ball that's way out there, far beyond Pluto.

Astronomers used to think this region of space was a no man's land. But the new findings suggest that it holds many small worlds — and there are even hints of an unseen planet bigger than Earth.

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4:02am

Tue March 18, 2014
Space

Space Thief Or Hero? One Man's Quest To Reawaken An Old Friend

Originally published on Tue March 18, 2014 6:56 pm

Early days: NASA's International Sun-Earth Explorer C (also known as ISEE-3 and ICE) was undergoing testing and evaluation inside the Goddard Space Flight Center's dynamic test chamber when this photo was snapped in 1976.
NASA

More than 30 years ago, Robert Farquhar stole a spacecraft.

Now he's trying to give it back.

The green satellite, covered with solar panels, is hurtling back toward the general vicinity of Earth, after nearly three decades of traveling in a large, looping orbit around the sun.

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2:27am

Mon February 24, 2014
Science

At 4.4 Billion Years Old, Oz Crystals Confirmed As World's Oldest

Originally published on Mon February 24, 2014 1:06 pm

The colors of the zircon crystals range from transparent to deep red.
Courtesy of University of Wisconsin

Scientists have used a powerful new technique to prove that some tiny crystals found in Western Australia are indeed the oldest known materials formed on Earth.

Back in 2001, scientists reported that one of the zircon crystals was about 4.4 billion years old — so old that not everyone believed it.

"There have been challenges, because nothing in science goes without being questioned. It always has to be proven," says John Valley, a geochemist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

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1:06pm

Thu February 13, 2014
Science

Robot Construction Workers Take Their Cues From Termites

Originally published on Thu February 13, 2014 6:58 pm

Climbing robots, modeled after termites, can be programmed to work together to build tailor-made structures.
[Image courtesy of Eliza Grinnell, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Termites can build huge, elaborate mounds that rise up from the ground like insect skyscrapers; scientists have now created little robots that act like termites to build a made-to-order structure.

"Termites are the real masters of construction in the insect world," says Justin Werfel of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. "The largest termite mound on record was 42 feet tall."

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2:30pm

Tue February 4, 2014
Shots - Health News

Drugmakers And NIH Band Together To Speed Up Research

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.
NIH

The National Institutes of Health is teaming up with major drug companies in a new effort to identify disease-related molecules and biological processes that could lead to future medicines.

The public-private partnership is called AMP, for the "Accelerating Medicines Partnership," and it will focus first on Alzheimer's disease, Type 2 diabetes, and two autoimmune disorders: rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

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1:59am

Wed January 29, 2014
Shots - Health News

Ancient Plague's DNA Revived From A 1,500-Year-Old Tooth

Originally published on Thu January 30, 2014 10:11 am

Graduate student Jennifer Klunk of McMaster University examines a tooth used to decode the genome of the ancient plague.
Courtesy of McMaster University

Scientists have reconstructed the genetic code of a strain of bacteria that caused one of the most deadly pandemics in history nearly 1,500 years ago.

They did it by finding the skeletons of people killed by the plague and extracting DNA from traces of blood inside their teeth.

This plague struck in the year 541, under the reign of the Roman emperor Justinian, so it's usually called the Justinian plague. The emperor actually got sick himself but recovered. He was one of the lucky ones.

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2:33am

Mon January 27, 2014
Science

Grand Canyon May Be Older (And Younger) Than You Think

Originally published on Mon January 27, 2014 10:31 am

The eastern Grand Canyon was about half-carved (to the level of the red cliffs above the hiker) from 15 million to 25 million years ago, an analysis published Sunday suggests. But the inner gorge was likely scooped out by the Colorado River in just the past 6 million years.
Laura Crossey University of New Mexico

In recent years geologists have hotly debated the age of the Grand Canyon. Some think it's young (just 6 million years old), while others argue that it dates back 70 million years — to the days of dinosaurs.

Now one group says the Grand Canyon is neither young nor old. Instead, these geologists say, it's both.

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3:30am

Thu January 9, 2014
Science

There She Blew! Volcanic Evidence Of The World's First Map

Originally published on Fri January 10, 2014 9:21 am

A reproduction of the mural from a room in Catalhoyuk, a Neolithic settlement in Turkey.
Sarah Murray Flickr

A new study of volcanic rocks suggests that an ancient mural may indeed depict an erupting volcano, adding new weight to a theory that this image is a contender for the world's oldest known landscape painting or map.

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2:26am

Tue December 31, 2013
Space

Bon Voyage, Voyager: Old Friends Take Stock

Originally published on Tue December 31, 2013 8:37 am

NASA/JPL-Caltech

For the scientists who have emotionally traveled with NASA's Voyager mission for decades, 2013 will be remembered as the year they knew Voyager 1 had finally become the first explorer from Earth to enter the mysterious realm of interstellar space.

Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, both blasted off in 1977, more than 35 years ago. Voyager 1 flew by Jupiter, then Saturn — and then on toward the unknown region that lies between stars.

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