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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Science
2:13 pm
Thu July 2, 2015

Checking DNA Against Elephants Hints At How Mammoths Got Woolly

Mammoths had a distinctive version of a gene known to play a role in sensing outside temperature, moderating the biology of fat and regulating hair growth. That bit of DNA likely helped mammoths thrive in cold weather, scientists say.
Courtesy of Giant Screen Films, 2012 D3D Ice Age, LLC/Penn State University

Originally published on Fri July 3, 2015 5:55 am

Scientists say they've found a bit of DNA in woolly mammoths that could help explain how these huge beasts were so well-adapted to live in the cold of the last ice age.

Woolly mammoths had long shaggy fur, small tails and ears to minimize frostbite, and a lot of fat to help stay warm as they roamed the tundra more than 12,000 years ago.

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Environment
2:58 am
Tue June 30, 2015

U.N. Brokers Global Effort To Rein In Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Originally published on Tue June 30, 2015 6:06 am

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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Environment
4:32 pm
Mon June 29, 2015

U.N. Holds Climate Talks In New York Ahead Of Paris Meeting

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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The Two-Way
1:55 pm
Thu June 25, 2015

Study Reveals What Happens During A 'Glacial Earthquake'

One of the 20 GPS sensors deployed on Greenland's Helheim Glacier to track its movement.
Alistair Everett/Swansea University

Originally published on Fri June 26, 2015 5:35 am

When giant icebergs break off of huge, fast-moving glaciers, they essentially push back on those rivers of ice and temporarily reverse the flow.

That's according to a new study of "glacial earthquakes," an unusual kind of temblor discovered just over a decade ago.

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The Two-Way
11:42 am
Wed June 24, 2015

How The Turtle Got Its Shell

An illustration of Pappochelys, based on its 240-million-year-old fossilized remains. This ancestor to today's turtle was about 8 inches long.
Rainer Schoch/Nature

Originally published on Wed June 24, 2015 6:01 pm

The fossilized remains of a bizarre-looking reptile are giving scientists new insights into how turtles got their distinctive shells.

Some 240 million years ago, this early turtle-like creature lived in a large lake, in a fairly warm, subtropical climate. But it didn't have the kind of shell modern turtles have, says Hans-Dieter Sues, a curator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

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Science
1:03 pm
Mon June 15, 2015

Instead Of Replacing Missing Body Parts, Moon Jellies Recycle

Upon injury, juvenile jellyfish reorganize their bodies to regain symmetry.
Courtesy Michael Abrams, Ty Basinger, and Christopher Frick, California Institute of Technology/PNAS

Originally published on Mon June 15, 2015 4:39 pm

Moon jellies have an unusual self-repair strategy, scientists have learned. If one of these young jellies loses some limbs, it simply rearranges what's left until its body is once again symmetrical.

"We were not expecting to see that," says Michael Abrams, a graduate student in biology at the California Institute of Technology.

All creatures have tricks to heal themselves. If you get a cut, your skin will form a scar. And some sea creatures, like starfish and sea cucumbers, can regenerate lost body parts.

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The Two-Way
2:07 pm
Wed June 10, 2015

Saturn's Dark And Mysterious Outer Ring Is Even Bigger Than Expected

An artist's conception of how Saturn's immense Phoebe ring might appear to eyes sensitive to infrared wavelengths.
NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Originally published on Wed June 10, 2015 6:19 pm

Saturn is famous for its lovely rings, but this gas giant has another ring that people normally don't see — and some new observations with an infrared telescope show that this mysterious ring is even bigger than scientists thought.

The first hint that Saturn had this secret ring came back in 1671, when the Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini looked through a telescope and discovered the moon now known as Iapetus.

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Shots - Health News
12:02 pm
Thu June 4, 2015

How Many Viruses Have Infected You?

Originally published on Fri June 5, 2015 2:12 pm

A cheap new lab test can use just a drop of blood to reveal the different kinds of viruses you've been exposed to over your lifetime.

The test suggests that, on average, people have been infected with about ten different types of known virus families, including influenzas, and rhinoviruses that cause the common cold, according to a report published Thursday in Science.

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Science
1:34 am
Mon June 1, 2015

Editing The Climate Talkers: Punctuation's Effect On Earth's Fate

Gustav Dejert Ikon Images/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed June 3, 2015 12:39 pm

In Bonn, Germany, hundreds of people have gathered to work on a draft version of a major United Nations agreement to control greenhouse gas emissions that are changing the Earth's climate.

And when I found out that climate change negotiations basically all boil down to writing and editing a document, I was intrigued.

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All Tech Considered
2:26 pm
Tue May 26, 2015

Higher-Tech Fake Eggs Offer Better Clues To Wild-Bird Behavior

One of these things is not like the other: A 3-D printed model of a beige cowbird egg stands out from its robin's egg nest mates, though their shape and heft are similar.
Ana Lopez/Courtesy of Mark Hauber

Originally published on Tue May 26, 2015 6:39 pm

Since the 1960s, biologists have made fake eggs for some studies of bird behavior. But Mark Hauber of Hunter College in New York says this kind of scientific handicraft is not exactly his forte.

"I'm a terrible craftsperson," he admits.

That's why Hauber is pioneering the use of 3-D printing technology to quickly produce made-to-order fake eggs, taking a bit of old-school science into the 21st century.

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Shots - Health News
12:10 pm
Thu May 21, 2015

You And Yeast Have More In Common Than You Might Think

This fungus among us — baker's yeast, aka Saccharomyces cerevisiae — is useful for more than just making bread.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Fri May 22, 2015 2:02 pm

Rip open a little package of baker's yeast from the supermarket, peer inside, and you'll see your distant cousin.

That's because we share a common ancestor with yeast, and a new study in the journal Science suggest that we also share hundreds of genes that haven't really changed in a billion years.

Edward Marcotte, a biologist at the University of Texas at Austin, knew that humans and yeast have thousands of similar genes. But, he wondered, how similar are they?

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Science
1:25 am
Mon May 11, 2015

Two Guys In Paris Aim To Charm The World Into Climate Action

ADP Co-chairs Daniel Reifsnyder (left) and Ahmed Djoghlaf (center) say their negotiation work is difficult but worth it. "We only have one planet, you know," Reifsnyder says. "We have to protect it."
Courtesy of IISD/ENB

Originally published on Thu June 18, 2015 12:51 pm

Here's a job that sounds perfect for either a superhero or a glutton for punishment: Get nearly 200 countries to finally agree to take serious action on climate change.

Two men have taken on this challenge. They're leading some international negotiations that will wrap up later this year in Paris at a major United Nations conference on climate change.

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Shots - Health News
3:06 pm
Wed May 6, 2015

Missing Link Microbes May Help Explain How Single Cells Became Us

Loki's Castle, the field of deep sea vents between Norway and Greenland, is home to sediments containing DNA from the newly discovered archaea.
R.B. Pedersen/Centre for Geobiology, Bergen, Norway

Originally published on Wed May 6, 2015 5:55 pm

Scientists have discovered a group of microbes at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean that could provide new clues to how life went from being simple to complex.

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Science
2:22 am
Mon April 6, 2015

When Did Humans Start Shaping Earth's Fate? An Epoch Debate

Originally published on Mon April 6, 2015 9:35 am

Humans have had such a huge impact on the Earth that some geologists think the human era should be enshrined in the official timeline of our planet.

They want to give the age of humans a formal name, just as scientists use terms like the Jurassic or the Cretaceous to talk about the age of dinosaurs.

But some researchers think that formally establishing an "Anthropocene" — as many call it — as part of the geologic time scale would be a big mistake.

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The Two-Way
2:43 am
Fri March 27, 2015

NASA To Study A Twin In Space And His Brother On Earth

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly is seen inside a Soyuz simulator at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center on March 4 in Star City, Russia. Kelly, along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko of the Russian Federal Space Agency, are scheduled for launch Friday aboard a Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
NASA/Bill Ingalls

Originally published on Fri March 27, 2015 1:58 pm

Updated at 4 p.m. ET

A Russian rocket has carried a Russian cosmonaut and an American astronaut to the International Space Station, where they will live for a full year, twice as long as people usually stay.

No American has remained in space longer than 215 days. Only a few people have ever gone on space trips lasting a year or more — the longest was 437 days — and they're all Russian cosmonauts. The last year-plus stay in space occurred nearly two decades ago.

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The Two-Way
12:01 pm
Wed March 25, 2015

Scientists Discover A New Form Of Ice — It's Square

Water molecules between two layers of graphene arranged themselves in a lattice of squares — unlike any other known form of ice.
NPG Press via YouTube

Originally published on Wed March 25, 2015 6:00 pm

Scientists recently observed a form of ice that's never been seen before, after sandwiching water between two layers of an unusual two-dimensional material called graphene.

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Science
5:11 am
Sat March 21, 2015

Why Some Mushrooms Glow In The Dark

N. gardneri mushrooms grow at the base of young babassu palms in Brazil. A bland tan by day, the fungi emit an eerie green light by night.
Michele P. Verderane/IP-USP

Originally published on Wed May 6, 2015 1:29 pm

A team of scientists recently created some fake, glowing mushrooms and scattered them in a Brazilian forest in hopes of solving an ancient mystery: Why do some fungi emit light?

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Science
1:17 am
Tue March 17, 2015

Are Humans Really Headed To Mars Anytime Soon?

Mars, anyone? Six researchers from the Mars Society sport their best space duds during this 2014 simulation of the conditions that explorers of the Red Planet might face. (From left) Ian Silversides, Anastasiya Stepanova, Alexandre Mangeot and Claude-Michel Laroche.
Micke Sebastien Paris Match via Getty Images

Originally published on Tue March 17, 2015 7:15 am

With recent news headlines proclaiming that dozens of people have been selected as finalists for a Martian astronaut corps, it might seem like a trip to this alien world might finally be close at hand.

But let's have a little reality check. What are the chances that we really will see people on the Red Planet in the next couple of decades?

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The Two-Way
1:46 pm
Thu March 12, 2015

Moon River? No, It's An Ocean On One Of Jupiter's Moons!

The moon Ganymede (right) orbits the giant planet Jupiter in this artist's rendering. Scientists say a saline ocean lurks under the moon's icy crust.
NASA/ESA

Originally published on Thu March 12, 2015 2:41 pm

NASA says the biggest moon in our solar system has a salty ocean below its surface.

Researchers had suspected since the 1970s that a moon of Jupiter called Ganymede had an ocean. Now they've confirmed it, scientists announced in a teleconference held by the space agency.

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Shots - Health News
12:18 pm
Thu February 19, 2015

Just A Bit Of DNA Helps Explain Humans' Big Brains

The human version of a DNA sequence called HARE5 (inserted into this mouse embryo) turned on a gene that's important for brain development. (Gene activity is stained blue.) By the end of gestation, the embryo's brain was 12 percent larger than the brain of an embryo injected with the chimpanzee version of HARE5.
Silver Lab/Duke University

Originally published on Fri February 20, 2015 11:57 am

Scientists studying the difference between human and chimpanzee DNA have found one stretch of human DNA that can make the brains of mice grow significantly bigger.

"It's likely to be one of many DNA regions that's critical for controlling how the human brain develops," says Debra Silver, a neurobiologist at Duke University Medical School.

It could also help explain why human brains are so much bigger than chimp brains, says Silver, who notes that "there are estimates of anywhere from two to four times as big."

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The Two-Way
9:03 am
Tue February 10, 2015

Scientific Pros Weigh The Cons Of Messing With Earth's Thermostat

The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 spewed almost 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, causing worldwide temperatures to drop half a degree on average.
Arlan Naeg AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri February 20, 2015 1:20 pm

Before anyone tries to cool the Earth with technologies that could counteract global warming, there needs to be a lot more research into the benefits and risks. That's the conclusion announced Tuesday by a scientific panel convened by the prestigious National Research Council to assess "climate geoengineering" — deliberate attempts to alter the global climate.

Geoengineering has been seen as the potential last-ditch option to stave off the worst effects of climate change, given that agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have been slow in coming.

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NPR Story
2:29 pm
Mon February 2, 2015

Hunting For Big Planets Far Beyond Pluto May Soon Be Easier

Stars over the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. Sheppard and Trujillo used the new Dark Energy Camera (DECam) on a telescope there to find the distant dwarf planet 2012 VP 113.
Reidar Hahn/Fermilab

Originally published on Wed February 4, 2015 9:39 am

On a mountaintop in Chile, excavators have just started work on a construction site. It will soon be home to a powerful new telescope that will have a good shot at finding the mysterious Planet X, if it exists.

"Planet X is kind of a catchall name given to any speculation about an unseen companion orbiting the sun," says Kevin Luhman, an astronomer at Penn State University.

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Shots - Health News
2:26 am
Mon January 26, 2015

DNA Blood Test Gives Women A New Option For Prenatal Screening

Ultrasound is often used for prenatal screening. It's just one of several prenatal screenings available to pregnant women.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Tue February 24, 2015 5:30 pm

When Amy Seitz got pregnant with her second child last year, she knew that being 35 years old meant there was an increased chance of chromosomal disorders like Down syndrome. She wanted to be screened, and she knew just what kind of screening she wanted — a test that's so new, some women and doctors don't quite realize what they've signed up for.

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Shots - Health News
1:45 pm
Thu January 22, 2015

Maybe Early Humans Weren't The First To Get A Good Grip

An example of a human precision grip — grasping a first metacarpal from the thumb of a specimen of Australopithecus africanus that's thought to be 2 to 3 million years old.
T.L. Kivell & M. Skinner

Originally published on Mon February 23, 2015 11:16 am

The special tool-wielding power of human hands may go back farther in evolutionary history than scientists have thought.

That's according to a new study of hand bones from an early relative of humans called Australopithecus africanus. Researchers used a powerful X-ray technique to scan the interior of the bones, and they detected a telltale structure that's associated with a forceful precision grip.

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Science
12:51 pm
Thu January 15, 2015

Highflying Geese Save Energy By Swooping Like A Roller Coaster

Bar-headed geese after a molt, hobnobbing in Mongolia.
Charles Bishop Science

Originally published on Fri January 16, 2015 5:59 am

The bar-headed goose is famous for its long, annual migration from the Indian subcontinent to central Asia, a flight that takes it over snowcapped Himalaya Mountains so high and dangerous that human climbers struggle just to stay alive.

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Your Health
2:51 pm
Fri January 2, 2015

Flu Vaccines Still Helpful Even When The Strain Is Different

Originally published on Fri January 2, 2015 4:23 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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Science
2:24 pm
Thu January 1, 2015

These Froggies Went A Courtin' And Gave Birth To Live Tadpoles

The newly described L. larvaepartus (male, left, and female) from Indonesia's island of Sulawesi. Odd, sure, but at least they don't use their stomachs as breeding chambers, as some other frogs do.
Jim McGuire UC Berkeley

Originally published on Thu January 1, 2015 8:34 pm

When Jim McGuire and some colleagues recently cut open a frog that they'd collected and euthanized on an Indonesian island, they got quite a shock.

"Out came the tadpoles, and they were alive!" recalls McGuire, a herpetologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

The researchers had just found the first frog known to give birth to live tadpoles.

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Shots - Health News
1:03 pm
Mon December 22, 2014

When Humans Quit Hunting And Gathering, Their Bones Got Wimpy

Farming helped fuel the rise of civilizations, but it may also have given us less robust bones.
Leemage/UIG via Getty Images

Originally published on Wed February 4, 2015 11:17 pm

Compared with other primates and our early human ancestors, we modern humans have skeletons that are relatively lightweight — and scientists say that basically may be because we got lazy.

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Shots - Health News
12:43 pm
Thu December 18, 2014

NIH Allows Restart Of MERS Research That Had Been Questioned

A transmission electron micrograph shows Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus particles (colorized yellow).
NIAID

Originally published on Thu December 18, 2014 1:26 pm

Some researchers who study the virus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome got an early Christmas present: permission to resume experiments that the federal government abruptly halted in October.

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Shots - Health News
7:47 am
Thu December 18, 2014

Worries About Unusual Botulinum Toxin Prove Unfounded

A culture of Clostridium botulinum, stained with gentian violet.
CDC

Originally published on Fri December 19, 2014 2:12 pm

Remember that worrisome new form of botulinum toxin we told you about in late 2013, the one that supposedly had to be kept secret out of fear it could be used as a bioweapon that would evade all of our medical defenses?

Well, as it turns out, it's not that scary after all. The antitoxin stored in the government's emergency stockpile works and would neutralize the toxin just fine.

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