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 News
1:30 am
Mon December 31, 2012

Research Moratoriums And Recipes For Superbugs: Bird Flu In 2012

Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis., use eggs to see if the Asian strain of the H5N1 bird flu virus has entered the U.S. in this photo from 2006.
Andy Manis AP

Originally published on Mon December 31, 2012 3:46 am

For scientists who study a dangerous form of bird flu, 2012 is ending as it began — with uncertainty about what the future holds for their research, but a hope that some contentious issues will soon be resolved.

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Shots - Health News
11:44 am
Wed December 19, 2012

NIH Moving To Revamp Funding Process For Bird Flu Research

A health official culls chickens on a poultry farm in a village on the outskirts of Katmandu, Nepal. Chickens suspected of being infected with H5N1 bird flu were found in the area in October.
Prakash Mathema AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed December 19, 2012 1:32 pm

Flu researchers may be close to ending an unusual moratorium on some controversial scientific work that has lasted almost a year.

That's because officials at the National Institutes of Health say they will be moving swiftly to finalize a new process for deciding whether or not to fund proposed experiments that could potentially create more dangerous forms of the bird flu virus H5N1.

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Shots - Health News
1:18 am
Tue December 18, 2012

NIH Revisits Debate On Controversial Bird Flu Research

A prefectural officer carries a chicken on a poultry farm on Oct. 15 on the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal, where chickens suspected of being infected with bird flu were found.
Prakash Mathema AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue December 18, 2012 6:14 am

On Tuesday, the National Institutes of Health in Maryland is holding a second day of talks about whether and how to continue funding some controversial scientific experiments.

Back in January, virologists agreed to temporarily stop research that was creating new forms of bird flu because critics argued that the work was too dangerous. NIH officials are now seeking input from scientists and the public about how to proceed.

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Space
3:26 pm
Fri December 14, 2012

50 Years After First Interplanetary Probe, NASA Looks To Future

The Mariner 2 probe at an assembly facility in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Aug. 29, 1962.
NASA/JPL/Caltech

Originally published on Mon December 17, 2012 8:27 am

Fifty years ago, on Dec. 14, 1962, reporters gathered for a press briefing at NASA headquarters and heard an unearthly sound: radio signals being beamed back by a spacecraft flying within 22,000 miles of Venus.

The Mariner 2 mission to Venus was the first time any spacecraft had ever gone to another planet.

These days, vivid photographs showing scenes from all around the solar system are so ubiquitous that people might easily forget how mysterious our planetary neighbors used to be.

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Space
12:49 am
Fri December 7, 2012

Is Another Moon Mission Written In The Stars?

Apollo 17 was the sixth and final Apollo mission to the moon. Here, lunar module pilot Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, Cmdr. Eugene Cernan and command module pilot Ron Evans pose in the lunar vehicle.
NASA

Originally published on Fri December 7, 2012 6:23 am

On Dec. 7, 1972, NASA launched its final human mission to the moon. Forty years later, Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan says he'd love to give up his claim to fame as "the last man on the moon."

"I'd like to be able to shake the hand of that young man or young woman who replaces me in that category," Cernan told NPR. "But unfortunately, the way things have gone and the way things are looking for the future, at least the near-term future, that won't happen in my lifetime. And that truly is disappointing."

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Research News
3:04 am
Fri November 30, 2012

Victory Or Defeat? Emotions Aren't All In The Face

Can You Tell Emotion From Faces Alone? A new study suggests that when people evaluated just facial expressions — without cues from the rest of the body — they couldn't tell if the face was showing a positive or negative emotion. Enlarge this photo to see the answers.
Hillel Aviezer The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Originally published on Fri November 30, 2012 6:20 pm

Photos of athletes in their moment of victory or defeat usually show faces contorted with intense emotion. But a new study suggests that people actually don't use those kinds of extreme facial expressions to judge how a person is feeling.

Instead, surprisingly, people rely on body cues.

Hillel Aviezer, a psychology researcher at Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, wanted to see how accurately people can read intense, real-world facial expressions — instead of the standardized, posed images of facial expressions that are usually used in lab tests.

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Science
2:13 pm
Fri November 23, 2012

Experiments That Keep Going And Going And Going

William Beal, standing at center, started a long-term study on seed germination in 1879. He buried 20 bottles with seeds in them for later researchers to unearth and plant.
Michigan State University

Originally published on Fri November 23, 2012 8:00 pm

A biologist who has been watching a dozen bottles of bacteria evolve for nearly a quarter of a century is hoping he can find someone to keep his lab experiment going long after he dies.

Meanwhile, just by coincidence, a botanist who works across campus is carefully tending an experiment that started before he was born, all the way back in 1879.

These two researchers, both at Michigan State University in East Lansing, represent different sides of an unusual phenomenon in science: experiments that outlive the people who started them.

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The Salt
3:58 am
Thu November 22, 2012

Ingredients For A Homestyle Thanksgiving, 200 Miles Above The Earth

Space food.
courtesy NASA

Originally published on Thu November 22, 2012 4:20 pm

For Thanksgiving, NASA's space food experts always try to make sure astronauts get to enjoy traditional holiday fare, even if its not exactly home cooking. And being so far from home, astronauts can get pretty attached to their comfort foods.

This year, Kevin Ford, the commander of Expedition 34 and currently working at the International Space Station, says he has the ingredients to make one favorite Thanksgiving dish the NASA nutritionists may not have anticipated: Candied yams with marshmallows.

The yams are thermostablized and come in a plastic pouch.

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Shots - Health News
3:03 pm
Wed November 21, 2012

When Fetuses Yawn In The Womb

Could that be a yawn? An ultrasound scan catches an opened-mouth fetus.
Courtesy of A Little Insight 3D 4D Ultrasound.

Why people yawn is a mystery. But yawning starts in the womb.

Past studies have used ultrasound images to show fetuses yawning, but some scientists have argued that real yawns were getting confused with fetuses simply opening their mouths.

So Nadja Reissland, a researcher at the University of Durham in the United Kingdom, used a more detailed ultrasound technique to get images of fetal faces that could distinguish a true yawn from just an open mouth.

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Animals
6:00 pm
Thu November 1, 2012

Move Over, Parrot: Elephant Mimics Trainer At Zoo

Koshi, an elephant, makes sounds that imitate Korean words.
Stoeger, et. al. Current Biology

Originally published on Fri November 2, 2012 9:43 am

Scientists say an Asian elephant at a South Korean zoo can imitate human speech, saying five Korean words that are readily understood by people who speak the language.

The male elephant, named Koshik, invented an unusual method of sound production that involves putting his trunk in his mouth and manipulating his vocal tract.

"This is not the kind of sound that Asian elephants normally make, and it's a dead-on match of the speech of his trainers," says Tecumseh Fitch of the University of Vienna in Austria.

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Shots - Health News
11:38 am
Tue October 16, 2012

Feds Seek Comments On Bird Flu Safety Fears

An electron microscope view of the bird flu virus.
PR Newswire

Here's your chance to weigh in on mutant forms of bird flu that have been in the news — the U.S. government wants to know just how scary you think these new viruses are.

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Science
3:31 pm
Wed October 10, 2012

Two Americans Share Nobel Prize In Chemistry

Originally published on Wed October 10, 2012 4:57 pm

Two Americans have won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Koblika were awarded the prize for their work on protein receptors that tell cells what's going on around the human body. Their research has allowed drug makers to develop medication with fewer side effects. The pair with share the $1.2 million award.

Research News
2:32 am
Wed October 10, 2012

Nobel In Chemistry Is Shared By Two Americans

Originally published on Wed October 10, 2012 5:12 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

All this week, we've been reporting on the winners of this year's Nobel Prizes. And today in Stockholm, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the winners of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. The chair of the Nobel Prize committee for chemistry described the importance of the discovery by giving the assembled reporters a little scare.

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Shots - Health Blog
9:11 am
Tue October 9, 2012

Debate Heats Up About Contentious Bird Flu Research

When a case of the potentially lethal H5N1 bird flu was found in British poultry in 2007, Dutch farmers were told to keep their poultry away from wild birds by closing off outdoor areas with wire mesh.
Ed Oudenaarden AFP/Getty Images

What was supposed to be a 60-day moratorium on certain experiments involving lab-altered bird flu has now lasted more than eight months. And there's no clear end in sight.

Researchers still disagree on how to best manage the risks posed by mutant forms of highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu. The altered viruses are contagious between ferrets, which are the lab stand-in for humans. The fear is that these germs could potentially cause a deadly flu pandemic in people if they ever escaped the lab.

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Science
5:56 pm
Fri September 28, 2012

Scientist Cleared In Polar Bear Controversy

Polar bears in the Beaufort Sea in northern Alaska. Scientist Charles Monnett caused a stir with a 2006 report on polar bears that were drowning, apparently owing to a lack of ice.
Steve Amstrup Fish and Wildlife Service

A long, controversial investigation of a polar bear scientist has ended with his government employer saying it does not look like he engaged in any scientific misconduct.

Charles Monnett is a wildlife researcher with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, part of the Department of the Interior. He and a colleague, Jeffrey Gleason, wrote an influential 2006 report describing apparently drowned polar bears floating in the Arctic, which they saw during a routine aerial survey of whales.

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Space
1:22 am
Fri September 28, 2012

NASA's Curiosity Finds Water Once Flowed On Mars

NASA says it has found proof that water shaped the rocks on the left, in a photograph taken by the Mars rover Curiosity (left). For comparison, the agency released an image of rocks from Earth (right).
NASA

Originally published on Fri September 28, 2012 6:29 am

NASA's newest Mars rover, Curiosity, has snapped photos of rocky outcroppings that jut out from the alien soil, and scientists say they look like the remnants of an ancient stream bed where water once flowed on the surface of the red planet.

The exposed rocks look like broken slabs of concrete sidewalk, about four inches thick, and are made of rounded bits of gravel in a sandy matrix. The rock has eroded a little bit, and some of the smooth pebbles — about the size of M&M candies — have fallen down into a little pile.

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Animals
11:14 am
Wed September 26, 2012

Mammalian Surprise: African Mouse Can Regrow Skin

The African spiny mouse has the ability to regrow large patches of skin and hair without scarring.
Ashley W. Seifert Nature

Originally published on Wed September 26, 2012 3:54 pm

Scientists have discovered that a mouse found in Africa can lose large patches of skin and then grow it back without scarring, perhaps as a way of escaping the clutches of a predator.

The finding challenges the conventional view that mammals have an extremely limited ability to replace injured body parts. There are lizards that can regrow lost tails, salamanders that can replace amputated legs, and fish that can generate new fins, but humans and other mammals generally patch up wounds with scar tissue.

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Shots - Health Blog
3:00 pm
Fri September 21, 2012

Government Officials Retire Chimpanzees From Research

Federally funded chimps at the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana will retire to either a lab in Texas or a chimp sanctuary in Louisiana.
Courtesy of the Humane Society of the United States

Originally published on Fri September 21, 2012 4:47 pm

One hundred ten chimpanzees will retire from biomedical research, the National Institutes of Health announced today. The move comes as some groups are pushing for a ban on all medical chimp research.

The NIH has been reviewing its chimp research since December. That's when a report from the Institute of Medicine said that there was almost no scientific need for doing biomedical research on chimps.

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The End Of The Space Shuttle Era
1:42 am
Tue September 18, 2012

Shuttle Endeavour Begins Long Voyage To New Home

Workers remove a tree from a median in the middle of Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood, Calif., on Sept. 4 to make room for Endeavour.
Reed Saxon AP

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 4:11 am

Space shuttle Endeavour begins a kind of farewell tour this week. The shuttle will set off on a cross-country trip to its retirement home, flying from Florida to Los Angeles on the back of a modified jumbo jet.

Along the way, the spaceship will stop off in Houston, home of NASA's Mission Control and, weather permitting, fly over NASA centers and various landmarks in cities that include San Francisco and Sacramento.

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Space
2:15 pm
Wed September 5, 2012

After 35 Years, Voyager Nears Edge Of Solar System

In addition to surveying the planets, the Voyager mission also spent time studying the planets' satellites, or moons. This mosaic image, taken in 1989, shows Neptune's largest satellite, Triton. Triton has the coldest surface temperature known anywhere in the solar system.
NASA/JPL

Originally published on Fri March 21, 2014 2:33 pm

The Voyager 1 spacecraft's 35th anniversary is proving to be unexpectedly exciting, as scientists gathered this week to examine new hints that the spacecraft is on the verge of leaving our solar system.

Voyager 1 is now more than 11 billion miles away from Earth. It blasted off in September 1977, on a mission to Jupiter and Saturn. But it also carried a Golden Record filled with music and the sounds of our planet, in case it encountered intelligent life as it moved out toward the stars.

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The Salt
1:19 am
Thu August 30, 2012

Subtracting Calories May Not Add Years To Life

A rhesus monkey eats watermelon, provided by zookeepers, at the Kamla Nehru Zoological Gardens in India in May 2012.
Sam Panthaky AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Mon October 15, 2012 8:34 am

Scientists have known for decades that lab rats and mice will live far longer than normal if they're fed a super-low-calorie diet, and that's led some people to eat a near-starvation diet in the hopes that it will extend the human life span, too.

But a new study in monkeys suggests they may be disappointed.

The long-awaited results of this study, which started back in 1987, show that rhesus monkeys fed a diet with 30 percent fewer calories than normal did not live unusually long lives.

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Science
1:50 am
Fri August 24, 2012

Web Cartoonist Raises $1 Million For Tesla Museum

Tesla reads in front of the spiral coil of his high-frequency transformer at his lab on Houston Street in New York.
Marc Seifer Archives

Originally published on Fri August 24, 2012 11:12 am

The only remaining laboratory of one of the greatest American inventors may soon be purchased so that it can be turned into a museum, thanks to an Internet campaign that raised nearly a million dollars in about a week.

The lab was called Wardenclyffe, and it was built by Nikola Tesla, a wizard of electrical engineering whose power systems lit up the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 and harnessed the mighty Niagara Falls.

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Animals
12:57 am
Fri August 17, 2012

Swarming Up A Storm: Why Animals School And Flock

A school of Blue Tang fish swimming together off the Caribbean island of Bonaire. It has long been assumed that the schooling behavior of fish evolved in part to protect animals from being attacked by predators.
David J. Phillip AP

Originally published on Fri August 17, 2012 9:06 am

By tricking live fish into attacking computer-generated "prey," scientists have learned that animals like birds and fish may indeed have evolved to swarm together to protect themselves from the threat of predators.

"Effectively, what we're doing here is we're getting predatory fish to play a video game," says Iain Couzin, who studies collective animal behavior at Princeton University. "And through playing that game, through seeing which virtual prey items they attack, we can get a very deep understanding of as to how behavioral interactions among prey affect their survival."

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Environment
9:46 am
Mon August 13, 2012

Feds Conclude Probe Of Polar Bear Scientists

A polar bear on fresh ice in the Hudson Bay in November 2007.
Paul J. Richards AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Mon August 13, 2012 10:46 am

A federal investigation into two researchers who wrote a famous report on drowned polar bears is finally over, according to their lawyer.

But the scientists still haven't been allowed to see a copy of the investigation report or its conclusions, says attorney Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Critics have charged that the two-year investigation was a witch hunt into researchers whose work had political implications.

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Shots - Health Blog
3:11 pm
Tue July 31, 2012

NIH Official Calls For Extension Of Moratorium On Bird Flu Experiments

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said a voluntary halt to bird flu research should stay in effect.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

A voluntary moratorium on certain experiments involving forms of bird flu altered in laboratories should continue until there can be more public discussion of safety concerns, a prominent government official told flu researchers at a meeting in New York City Tuesday.

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Shots - Health Blog
1:49 pm
Mon July 30, 2012

What Does The Future Hold For Bird Flu Research?

A government official in Bali, Indonesia, holds a chicken before administering an injection to cull it as a precautionary measure in April to prevent the spread of bird flu.
Firdia Lisnawati AP

Originally published on Mon July 30, 2012 2:43 pm

In a hotel ballroom in New York City, a couple hundred flu researchers watched with interest Monday as a government official ran down a list of seven kinds of experiments that could raise special security risks.

The official noted that one item on the list was any experiment that could make an infectious agent more transmissible, or contagious. "It wouldn't take long for this audience to come up with an example of that," he noted wryly.

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Shots - Health Blog
3:28 am
Tue July 24, 2012

Bird Flu Researchers To Meet About Research Moratorium

Chickens are under quarantine in Tepatitlan, Jalisco State, Mexico. The Mexican government declared a national animal health emergency July 2 in the face of an aggressive bird flu epidemic that has infected nearly 1.7 million poultry.
Hector Guerrero AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed July 25, 2012 8:30 am

Top influenza researchers around the world published a statement back in January saying they would temporarily hold off on any work with contagious, lab-altered forms of a particularly worrisome form of bird flu.

The unusual voluntary moratorium was supposed to last only 60 days, but it's been more than six months. And scientists don't agree on what should happen next.

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Space
1:28 am
Tue July 3, 2012

Fledgling NASA Nonprofit Starts To Liftoff

Originally published on Tue July 3, 2012 8:24 am

A new nonprofit organization that's supposed to take charge of expanding scientific research on the International Space Station has had a rocky first year but now is starting to show what it can do.

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space just signed one agreement with a company not traditionally linked to research in space: the sporting goods company Cobra Puma Golf.

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Shots - Health Blog
1:08 pm
Thu June 21, 2012

Journal Publishes Details On Contagious Bird Flu Created In Lab

Vietnam has contained the fatal bird flu cases that raged in the late 2000s, but it is still struggling with new cases of the virulent disease. Here, a poultry trader loads live chickens onto his motorbike on March 16 at a market outside Hanoi.
Hoang Dinh Ham AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri June 22, 2012 10:40 am

Anyone and everyone can now look in the journal Science and read about how to make lab-altered bird flu viruses that have been at the center of a controversy that's raged for months.

But in the eyes of some critics, the details of these experiments are effectively the recipe for a dangerous flu pandemic.

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Dead Stop
10:12 pm
Wed June 6, 2012

How Dorothy Parker Came To Rest In Baltimore

Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke (center left) and NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Hooks lower the ashes of writer Dorothy Parker into her final resting place at the NAACP headquarters in 1988.
Carlos Rosario AP

Originally published on Thu June 7, 2012 6:17 pm

The writer, poet and critic Dorothy Parker was technically not a native New Yorker; she was born at her family's beach cottage in New Jersey. But she always considered New York City to be her beloved hometown. It's where she grew up, where she struggled during her early days as a writer, where she became famous, and where she died of a heart attack at the age of 73.

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