NPR: 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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2:43pm

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 β€” and they believe this may be the oldest known example of a deliberate geometric engraving made by a human hand.

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4:28pm

Fri November 14, 2014
Science

Controversy Over Scientist's Shirt Mars Celebration Of Comet Landing

Originally published on Fri November 14, 2014 6:34 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

4:41pm

Mon November 10, 2014
Shots - Health News

These X's Are The Same Shade, So What Does That Say About Color?

Originally published on Tue November 11, 2014 5:33 pm

This is a re-creation of a color plate from Interaction of Color, by Josef Albers. The two X's are are exactly the same β€” it's the different backgrounds that make them look like very different colors.
Source: Josef Albers Interaction of Color

Learning to name the colors is a ritual of childhood. At first kids have no clue; often they'll just say everything is "boo." Pretty soon, though, they can rattle off Roy G. Biv with aplomb. Still, that doesn't mean they understand what color actually is.

Mark Fairchild, who studies color and vision science at the Rochester Institute of Technology, says that even physicists get it wrong when they confidently assert that color is just a wavelength of light.

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3:27am

Fri November 7, 2014
Shots - Health News

How A Tilt Toward Safety Stopped A Scientist's Virus Research

Originally published on Tue November 11, 2014 4:27 pm

Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome virus particles cling to the surface of an infected cell.
NIAID/Flickr

As cases of a worrisome respiratory virus continue to pop up in the Middle East, scientists who study it in the U.S. are struggling to understand how they'll be affected by a government moratorium on certain kinds of experiments.

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4:57am

Fri October 31, 2014
Shots - Health News

Virus Sleuths Chip Away At Ebola Mysteries

Originally published on Fri October 31, 2014 4:55 pm

Stringy particles of Ebola virus (blue) bud from a chronically infected cell (yellow-green) in this colorized, scanning electron micrograph.
NIAID Science Source

Vincent Racaniello, who studies viruses at Columbia University, says Ebola has recently become his obsession.

"I find myself reading incessantly about Ebola when I should be doing other things," says Racaniello, host of the online show This Week in Virology, which has devoted several recent programs to Ebola.

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8:58am

Thu October 23, 2014
Shots - Health News

Scientists Fight For Superbug Research As U.S. Pauses Funding

Originally published on Fri October 24, 2014 12:33 pm

A rogues gallery of the viruses (left to right) that cause MERS, SARS, and influenza.
Niaid; 3D4Medical; Niaid/Science Source

An unusual government moratorium aimed at controversial research with high-risk viruses has halted important public health research, scientists told an advisory committee to the federal government on Wednesday.

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5:48pm

Mon October 20, 2014
Shots - Health News

When Reassuring Isn't: The Rush To Test Cruise Passenger For Ebola

Originally published on Tue October 21, 2014 10:41 am

The cruise ship Carnival Magic floats behind a catamaran off Cozumel, Mexico on Oct. 17. The ship skipped a planned stop there Friday, the cruise line says, after Mexican authorities delayed granting permission to dock.
Reuters/Landov

Here's a question about the fine line between a prudent response and worrisome overkill: Is the sight of a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter hovering over a cruise ship to pick up a blood sample (which is to be tested for Ebola) a sight that should inspire feelings of reassurance, or a nagging sense that something is not quite right?

The question is still in the air after the weekend's effort to airlift a few milliliters of blood from a passenger who was on board what is now being called the Ebola Cruise.

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4:47pm

Fri October 17, 2014
Shots - Health News

U.S. To Temporarily Halt Funding For Controversial Virus Research

Originally published on Fri October 17, 2014 6:07 pm

Avian influenza, or bird flu, causes an infectious and contagious respiratory disease. In the lab, several scientists have made the H5N1 strain more contagious, a controversial line of research.
James Cavallini ScienceSource

The federal government will temporarily stop funding any new studies that could make three high-risk infectious diseases even more dangerous. The government is asking all scientists involved in this research now to voluntarily halt their current studies.

The unusual move comes after a long controversy over experiments with mutant forms of a bird flu virus.

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4:18pm

Fri October 17, 2014
Global Health

Why Won't The Fear Of Airborne Ebola Go Away?

Originally published on Tue October 21, 2014 10:19 am

The Ebola virus as seen under an electron microscope.
BSIP UIG via Getty Images

How many times do top officials have to say that the Ebola virus is not airborne?

A lot, apparently.

Here is President Obama Thursday: "This is not an airborne disease. It is not easy to catch."

And the day before: "It is not like the flu. It is not airborne."

And Friday, a reporter asked the inevitable question about airborne Ebola when Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, held a press briefing about nurse Nina Pham's transfer to the National Institute of Health.

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1:03pm

Wed October 8, 2014
Science

Indonesian Cave Paintings As Old As Europe's Ancient Art

Originally published on Wed October 8, 2014 6:13 pm

A stencil of an early human's hand in an Indonesian cave is estimated to be about 39,000 years old.
Kinza Riza Courtesy of Nature.com

Prehistoric cave paintings of animals and human hands in Indonesia are as ancient as similar paintings found in Western Europe, according to a new study that suggests humans may have carried this art tradition with them when they migrated out of Africa.

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6:40pm

Wed October 1, 2014
Shots - Health News

On The Alert For Ebola, Texas Hospital Still Missed First Case

Originally published on Thu October 2, 2014 8:57 am

Traffic moves past Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where a patient showed up with symptoms that were later confirmed to be Ebola.
Mike Stone Getty Images

Hospitals have been on the lookout for the Ebola virus in the United States, and Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas was no exception. A nurse there did ask about the travel history of the patient who later turned out to be infected with the virus. But some members of the medical team didn't hear that the man had recently been in West Africa. So he was initially sent home β€” even though he was experiencing symptoms of Ebola, and that meant he was contagious.

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3:33pm

Wed September 24, 2014
Shots - Health News

Research Institutions Will Have To Identify 'Dual-Use' Pathogens

Originally published on Wed September 24, 2014 4:53 pm

Biohazard suits used to handle dangerous microbes hang in a laboratory at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md.
Patrick Semansky AP

Any research institution that receives federal funding will soon have to screen certain kinds of scientific experiments to see if the work could potentially be misused to endanger the public.

The new policy will take effect next year, and it's the latest effort by the U. S. government to come to grips with so called "dual-use" biological researchβ€”legitimate medical or public health studies that could reveal how to make already-worrisome germs or toxins even more destructive.

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4:20pm

Fri September 5, 2014
Global Health

Health Officials Hope To Speed Up Possible Ebola Cures

Originally published on Fri September 5, 2014 8:39 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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1:53pm

Fri September 5, 2014
Goats and Soda

The Latest Word From WHO On Experimental Ebola Therapies

Originally published on Fri September 5, 2014 3:21 pm

Proteins and enzymes that will produce antibodies for the experimental Ebola drug ZMapp are developed on the leaves of the nicotiana benthamiana plant, a relative of tobacco. Here, indicator proteins glow under ultraviolet light β€” a way to assess the success of bacteria spread.
Sean Gallup Getty Images

One of the reasons Ebola is so terrifying is that there's no vaccine and no cure. But the World Health Organization hopes to change that, with plans to quickly test experimental products during this outbreak.

By November, two promising vaccines will have been tested on people to see if they're safe, says Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general at WHO.

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3:42am

Thu August 21, 2014
Goats and Soda

How Much Bigger Is The Ebola Outbreak Than Official Reports Show?

Originally published on Thu August 21, 2014 3:05 pm

Workers with the aid group Doctors Without Borders prepare a new Ebola treatment center near Monrovia, Liberia, on Sunday. The facility has 120 beds, making it the largest Ebola isolation clinic in history.
John Moore Getty Images

The latest numbers on the Ebola outbreak are grim: 2,473 people infected and 1,350 deaths.

That's the World Health Organization's official tally of confirmed, probable and suspect cases across Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. But the WHO has previously warned that its official figures may "vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak."

So how bad is it really?

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5:58pm

Thu August 14, 2014
Shots - Health News

A Virtual Outbreak Offers Hints Of Ebola's Future

Originally published on Thu August 14, 2014 8:07 pm

Kenyan health officials take the temperatures of passengers arriving at the Nairobi airport on Thursday. Kenya has no reported cases of Ebola, but it's a transportation hub and so is on alert.
Simon Maina AFP/Getty Images

While the Ebola outbreak continues to rage in West Africa, it is also unfolding β€” in a virtual sense β€” inside the computers of researchers who study the dynamics of epidemics.

Policymakers look to these simulations to get a sense of how the outbreak might spread. They also can use them to run experiments to see which public health measures should take priority.

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3:25am

Wed August 13, 2014
Shots - Health News

Biologists Choose Sides In Safety Debate Over Lab-Made Pathogens

Originally published on Thu August 14, 2014 5:23 pm

An outbreak of bird flu in India in 2008 prompted authorities to temporarily ban the sale of poultry.
Diptendu Dutta AFP/Getty Images

A smoldering debate about whether researchers should ever deliberately create superflu strains and other risky germs in the interest of science has flared once again.

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4:19pm

Tue August 12, 2014
Global Health

Ethics Panel Endorses The Use Of Experimental Drugs To Slow Ebola

Originally published on Tue August 12, 2014 9:53 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

5:27am

Mon July 21, 2014
Shots - Health News

Big Data Peeps At Your Medical Records To Find Drug Problems

Originally published on Tue July 22, 2014 2:43 pm

Katherine Streeter for NPR

No one likes it when a new drug in people's medicine cabinets turns out to have problems β€” just remember the Vioxx debacle a decade ago, when the painkiller was removed from the market over concerns that it increased the risk of heart attack and stroke.

To do a better job of spotting unforeseen risks and side effects, the Food and Drug Administration is trying something new β€” and there's a decent chance that it involves your medical records.

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3:28am

Thu July 10, 2014
Space

The Little Spacecraft That Couldn't

Originally published on Thu July 10, 2014 3:03 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

An audacious quest to reconnect with a vintage NASA spacecraft has suffered a serious setback and is now pretty much over.

The satellite launched in 1978 and has been in a long, looping orbit around the sun for about three decades. Earlier this year, NPR told you about an effort to get in touch with this venerable piece of NASA hardware and send it on one more adventure.

But there are no guarantees when you try to recapture the past.

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2:03pm

Thu June 26, 2014
Science

A Shocking Fish Tale Surprises Evolutionary Biologists

Originally published on Sat July 12, 2014 12:39 pm

A 6-foot-long electric eel is basically a 6-inch fish attached to a 5-1/2-foot cattle prod, researchers say. The long tail is packed with special cells that pump electricity without shocking the fish.
Mark Newman Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image

The electric eel's powerful ability to deliver deadly shocks β€” up to 600 volts β€” makes it the most famous electric fish, but hundreds of other species produce weaker electric fields. Now, a new genetic study of electric fish has revealed the surprising way they got electrified.

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2:03pm

Thu June 19, 2014
Science

How To Become A Neanderthal: Chew Before Thinking

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 10:54 am

By comparing "Skull 17" from the Sima de los Huesos site with many others found in the same cave, researchers were able to discern the common facial features of the era.
Javier Trueba Madrid Scientific Films

Scientists have long puzzled over the origin and evolution of our closest relative, the Neanderthal. Now, researchers say Neanderthals seem to have developed their distinctive jaws and other facial features first, before they evolved to have big brains.

That's according to an analysis of 17 skulls, all taken from one excavation site in a mountain cave in Atapuerca, Spain, known as the Sima de los Huesos β€” the "pit of bones."

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3:25am

Wed June 18, 2014
Science

Is Collecting Animals For Science A Noble Mission Or A Threat?

Originally published on Wed June 18, 2014 8:29 am

DNA from these crab plovers, collected in Djibouti, Africa, should help scientists figure out how the unusual species fits into the family tree, says the Smithsonian's Helen James.
Maggie Starbard NPR

Behind the scenes at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, there's a vast, warehouse-like room that's filled with metal cabinets painted a drab institutional green. Inside the cabinets are more than a half-million birds β€” and these birds are not drab. Their colorful feathers make them seem to almost glow.

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4:34pm

Thu May 22, 2014
Science

Big Flightless Birds Come From High-Flying Ancestors

Originally published on Thu May 22, 2014 8:06 pm

The egg definitely came before the chicken in this case β€” the skeleton is from a modern adult kiwi, the egg from its much bigger, long-extinct cousin, Aepyornis maximus.
Kyle Davis and Paul Scofield Canterbury Museum

Big, flightless birds like the ostrich, the emu and the rhea are scattered around the Southern Hemisphere because their ancestors once flew around the world, a new study suggests.

That's a surprise, because it means birds in Australia, Africa and South America independently evolved in ways that made them all lose the ability to fly.

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12:18pm

Thu May 15, 2014
Science

Why This Octopus Isn't Stuck-Up

Originally published on Thu May 15, 2014 8:18 pm

Octopus arms keep from getting all tangled up in part because some kind of chemical in octopus skin prevents the tentacles' suckers from grabbing on.

That was the surprise discovery of scientists who were trying to understand how octopuses manage to move all their weird appendages without getting tied in knots.

Unlike humans, octopuses don't have a constant awareness of their arms' locations. It's kind of like the eight arms have minds of their own. And as an octopus arm travels through the water, its neighboring arms are constantly in reach.

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4:02pm

Mon May 12, 2014
Environment

'Past The Point Of No Return:' An Antarctic Ice Sheet's Slow Collapse

Originally published on Tue May 13, 2014 10:04 am

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Antarctica is covered with the biggest mass of ice on earth. The part of the ice sheath that's over West Antarctica is thought to be especially vulnerable to climate change. Scientists now say a slow collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is both underway and irreversible. And as NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports, this could eventually raise sea levels more than 10 feet.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: For decades, scientists have worried about the West Antarctic ice sheet.

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2:18pm

Wed May 7, 2014
Shots - Health News

Chemists Expand Nature's Genetic Alphabet

Originally published on Tue June 10, 2014 9:59 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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