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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3:17am

Tue March 17, 2015
Science

Are Humans Really Headed To Mars Anytime Soon?

Originally published on Tue March 17, 2015 9:15 am

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

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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3:46pm

Thu March 12, 2015
The Two-Way

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

Originally published on Thu March 12, 2015 4:41 pm

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

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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1:48pm

Thu February 19, 2015
Shots - Health News

Just A Bit Of DNA Helps Explain Humans' Big Brains

Originally published on Fri February 20, 2015 1:57 pm

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

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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11:20am

Tue February 10, 2015
The Two-Way

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

Originally published on Fri February 20, 2015 3:20 pm

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

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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5:19pm

Mon February 2, 2015
Space

Hunting For Big Planets Far Beyond Pluto May Soon Be Easier

Originally published on Wed February 4, 2015 11:39 am

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

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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3:59am

Mon January 26, 2015
Shots - Health News

DNA Blood Test Gives Women A New Option For Prenatal Screening

Originally published on Tue February 24, 2015 7:30 pm

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

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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3:45pm

Thu January 22, 2015
Shots - Health News

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

Originally published on Mon February 23, 2015 1:16 pm

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

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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2:51pm

Thu January 15, 2015
Science

Highflying Geese Save Energy By Swooping Like A Roller Coaster

Originally published on Fri January 16, 2015 7:59 am

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

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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4:19pm

Fri January 2, 2015
Your Health

Flu Vaccines Still Helpful Even When The Strain Is Different

Originally published on Fri January 2, 2015 6:23 pm

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

Transcript

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4:38pm

Thu January 1, 2015
Science

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

Originally published on Thu January 1, 2015 10:34 pm

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

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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3:03pm

Mon December 22, 2014
Shots - Health News

When Humans Quit Hunting And Gathering, Their Bones Got Wimpy

Originally published on Thu February 5, 2015 1:17 am

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

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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2:25pm

Thu December 18, 2014
Shots - Health News

NIH Allows Restart Of MERS Research That Had Been Questioned

Originally published on Thu December 18, 2014 3:26 pm

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

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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9:47am

Thu December 18, 2014
Shots - Health News

Worries About Unusual Botulinum Toxin Prove Unfounded

Originally published on Fri December 19, 2014 4:12 pm

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

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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1:21pm

Tue December 16, 2014
Shots - Health News

Scientists Debate If It's OK To Make Viruses More Dangerous In The Lab

Originally published on Wed December 17, 2014 4:26 pm

The coronavirus responsible for Middle East respiratory syndrome (green particles) seen on camel cells in a scanning electron micrograph.
NIAID/Colorado State University

Imagine that scientists wanted to take Ebola virus and see if it could ever become airborne by deliberately causing mutations in the lab and then searching through those new viruses to see if any spread easily through the air.

Would that be OK?

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1:03pm

Wed December 3, 2014
Science

Earliest Human Engraving Or Trash From An Ancient Lunch?

Originally published on Thu December 18, 2014 5:52 pm

An inside view of this fossil Pseudodon shell shows that the hole made by Homo erectus is exactly at the spot where the muscle attached to the shell. Poking at that spot would force the shell open.
Henk Caspers Naturalis Leiden/The Netherlands

Scientists have discovered enigmatic markings on an ancient shell that's been sitting in a museum for more than a century — and they believe this may be the oldest known example of a deliberate geometric engraving made by a human hand.

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