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
9:20 am
Thu October 23, 2014

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

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

Originally published on Thu October 23, 2014 1:31 pm

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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Shots - Health News
2:56 pm
Mon October 20, 2014

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

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

Originally published on Tue October 21, 2014 7:41 am

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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Shots - Health News
2:10 pm
Fri October 17, 2014

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

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

Originally published on Fri October 17, 2014 3:07 pm

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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Science
10:12 am
Wed October 8, 2014

Indonesian Cave Paintings As Old As Europe's Ancient Art

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

Originally published on Wed October 8, 2014 3:13 pm

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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Shots - Health News
4:50 pm
Wed October 1, 2014

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

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

Originally published on Thu October 2, 2014 5:57 am

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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Goats and Soda
11:18 am
Fri September 5, 2014

The Latest Word From WHO On Experimental Ebola Therapies

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

Originally published on Fri September 5, 2014 12:21 pm

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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Shots - Health News
9:35 am
Wed August 13, 2014

Biologists Choose Sides In Safety Debate Over Lab-Made Pathogens

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

Originally published on Thu August 14, 2014 2:23 pm

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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Shots - Health News
10:40 am
Mon July 21, 2014

Big Data Peeps At Your Medical Records To Find Drug Problems

Katherine Streeter for NPR

Originally published on Tue July 22, 2014 11:43 am

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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Science
11:16 am
Thu June 26, 2014

A Shocking Fish Tale Surprises Evolutionary Biologists

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

Originally published on Sat July 12, 2014 9:39 am

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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Science
11:52 am
Thu June 19, 2014

How To Become A Neanderthal: Chew Before Thinking

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

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 7:54 am

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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Science
9:22 am
Thu May 15, 2014

Why This Octopus Isn't Stuck-Up

Originally published on Thu May 15, 2014 5:18 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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Shots - Health News
11:24 am
Wed May 7, 2014

Chemists Expand Nature's Genetic Alphabet

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

Originally published on Tue June 10, 2014 6:59 am

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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Shots - Health News
10:15 am
Tue April 22, 2014

Who's Protecting Whom From Deadly Toxin?

Originally published on Wed April 23, 2014 8:06 pm

Questions are swirling around a science journal's decision last year to publish a description of a newly discovered botulinum toxin while omitting key genetic details that researchers would normally disclose.

The unusual case highlights important unresolved issues in how to balance scientific openness with the worry that biological information could potentially be misused.

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The Two-Way
12:03 pm
Thu April 17, 2014

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

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

Originally published on Thu April 17, 2014 5:06 pm

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" β€” 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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Shots - Health News
1:22 pm
Thu April 10, 2014

Scientists Publish Recipe For Making Bird Flu More Contagious

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

Originally published on Fri April 11, 2014 12:13 pm

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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