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 Blog
12:01 am
Mon March 26, 2012

Bird Flu Studies Getting Another Round Of Scrutiny By Panel

Health Department officials cull birds and put them in sacks after bird flu virus was detected in Bhubaneswar, India.
Biswaranjan Rout AP

Originally published on Mon March 26, 2012 8:50 am

In June of 2009, a committee met at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to do a routine safety review of proposed research projects.

One of those projects involved genetically modifying flu viruses. And during the review, the committee brought up the idea of "dual-use" research. "Dual use" means legitimate scientific work that's intended to advance science or medicine, but that also might be misused with the intent to do harm.

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Animals
5:08 pm
Thu March 15, 2012

Just How Big Are The Eyes Of A Giant Squid?

This giant squid was caught about 10 miles off the shores of Oahu, Hawaii, in 1981. The pupil of its eye measured more than 3.5 inches across.
Current Biology

Originally published on Thu March 15, 2012 9:32 pm

Giant and colossal squids can be more than 40 feet long, if you measure all the way out to the tip of their two long feeding tentacles. But it's their eyes that are truly huge — the size of basketballs.

Now, scientists say these squids may have the biggest eyes in the animal kingdom because they need to detect a major predator, the sperm whale, as it moves toward them through the underwater darkness.

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Shots - Health Blog
11:05 am
Wed March 7, 2012

FDA Scientists Feel A Little Better About Where They Work

A survey of scientists at the Food and Drug Administration finds they're feeling more optimistic about the integrity of decisions made at headquarters (seen here) and elsewhere in the agency.
FDA

Scientists who work for the Food and Drug Administration are feeling more optimistic about the future of their agency than they did back in 2006, according to a survey just out from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

But they still report concerns about outside pressures on the FDA's decisions and policies.

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Shots - Health Blog
12:44 pm
Wed February 29, 2012

Expert Panel To Give Controversial Bird Flu Research A Second Look

An health official wearing protective gear culls a bird at a poultry farm after a naturally occurring bird flu virus was detected near Agartala, India, in January.
Sushanta Das AP

Originally published on Wed February 29, 2012 8:34 pm

Two controversial studies on bird flu will once again be reviewed by an expert committee that advises the government on what to do with biological research that could pose potential dangers.

The move is just the latest development in a fierce ongoing debate about genetically altered flu viruses created in laboratories at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands and at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Shots - Health Blog
3:25 pm
Fri February 17, 2012

WHO Panel Supports Publication Of Bird Flu Details, Eventually

The full details of two controversial experiments on bird flu should be published openly, says a panel convened by the World Health Organization.

But information about the studies should remain secret a while longer so that there's time to address public concerns, the group recommends. The experiments should stay on hold, too.

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Shots - Health Blog
3:05 am
Fri February 17, 2012

Questions About Bird Flu Research Swirl Around Private WHO Meeting

H5N1 avian flu viruses (seen in gold) grow inside canine kidney cells (seen in green).
Cynthia Goldsmith CDC

Originally published on Fri February 17, 2012 10:37 am

A closed-door meeting to discuss controversial bird flu research is drawing to a close at the World Health Organization in Geneva, and the WHO plans to publicly report on what happened once it's officially over.

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Shots - Health Blog
11:49 am
Thu February 16, 2012

The 'WHO's Who' Of Virologists Meet To Talk Bird Flu In Geneva

Virologists and other scientists are meeting at the World Health Organization's Geneva headquarters to talk about the bird flu.
Pierre Virot WHO

A closed-door summit on controversial bird flu research starts today, and the newly released guest list reveals that the event will be dominated by virologists.

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Shots - Health Blog
5:52 pm
Wed February 15, 2012

Scientists Debate How To Conduct Bird Flu Research

H5N1 avian flu viruses (seen in gold) grow inside canine kidney cells (seen in green).
Cynthia Goldsmith CDC

Originally published on Tue February 21, 2012 5:58 pm

Scientists working with bird flu recently called a 60-day halt on some controversial experiments, and the unusual move has been compared to a famous moratorium on genetic engineering in the 1970s.

But key scientists involved in that event disagree on whether history is repeating itself.

"I see an amazing similarity," says Nobel Prize winner Paul Berg, of Stanford University.

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Health
12:01 am
Mon February 13, 2012

Scientists Take Cautious Tack On Bird Flu Research

A government veterinarian worker sprays anti-bird flu disinfectant over birds and fowls at Medan city market in North Sumatra province. Indonesia reported its second human death from bird flu this year in late January.
AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Mon February 13, 2012 11:24 am

Last month, scientists around the world agreed to temporarily halt certain genetic experiments with bird flu viruses. More than three weeks of that 60-day moratorium have already passed. And the scientific community is in the midst of a fierce debate about what needs to happen next.

The suspension of the research came in response to fears that researchers had created dangerous new germs that could cause a devastating pandemic in people if they ever escaped the lab or fell into the wrong hands.

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Shots - Health Blog
9:42 am
Thu February 9, 2012

International Meeting On Controversial Bird Flu Research Draws Near

H5N1 avian flu viruses (seen in gold) grow inside canine kidney cells (seen in green).
Cynthia Goldsmith CDC

The World Health Organization has just one week left to prepare for a highly anticipated meeting on controversial bird flu research. One official says that 22 invitations have gone out and the WHO is still waiting to hear back from some of the invitees.

Recent experiments involving the H5N1 bird flu virus have caused a furor in the science community, and the WHO was urged to convene an international discussion.

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Shots - Health Blog
2:08 pm
Fri January 20, 2012

Researchers Agree To Temporary Halt For Bird Flu Experiments

H5N1 avian flu viruses (seen in gold) grow inside canine kidney cells (seen in green).
Cynthia Goldsmith CDC

Originally published on Mon January 23, 2012 3:41 pm

Scientists have said that they are voluntarily putting some controversial bird flu research on hold.

The move to suspend the work for 60 days comes in response to critics who say their work is dangerous.

People rarely get sick with bird flu, caused by the H5N1 virus, and when they do, they're generally not contagious.

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Research News
12:01 am
Mon January 16, 2012

Labs Size Up New Guidelines For Rodent Cages

The standard rat cage used in the U.S. (right) has 140 square inches of floor space. One interpretation of the new guidelines says this cage wouldn't be big enough to hold a male rat, a female rat and their babies. Instead, labs would have to house the rat family in a larger cage, like the 210-square-inch one on the left.
Courtesy of Joseph Thulin Biomedical Resource Center, Medical College of Wisconsin

Scientists do experiments with millions of rats and mice each year, to study everything from heart disease to cancer to diabetes. Recently, some new recommendations about how to house female lab rodents and their babies caused an uproar, with experts at major research institutions now saying they're unsure of what they'll have to do to keep their government funding.

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Science
5:54 am
Sun December 25, 2011

Trees In Trouble: Grim Future For Frankincense

Frankincense comes from the Boswellia sacra tree, which grows mainly in the Horn of Africa. The number of trees that produce the fragrant resin could decline by 90 percent in the next 50 years.
scott.zona flickr

The original Christmas presents were gold, frankincense and myrrh. That's what wise men brought to the baby Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew. Frankincense is still used today — for perfumes, incense and traditional medicines — but a new study suggests that its future looks grim.

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Shots - Health Blog
1:11 pm
Fri December 23, 2011

Critics Say Obama's Efforts To Protect Science Are Slow and Weak

Did politics trump science when it came to Plan B?
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Originally published on Tue December 27, 2011 11:00 am

Critics cried foul when Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the Food and Drug Administration earlier this month, saying that teenage girls can't buy the emergency contraceptive plan B without a prescription. Their complaint: That the move went against the Obama administration's stated goal of protecting science from the taint of politics.

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Shots - Health Blog
2:36 pm
Tue December 20, 2011

U.S. Says Details Of Flu Experiments Should Stay Secret

H5N1 avian flu viruses (seen in gold) grow inside canine kidney cells (seen in green).
Cynthia Goldsmith CDC

Originally published on Wed December 21, 2011 10:35 am

A committee that advises the government says that details of two controversial experiments on bird flu virus should not be made public, because of fears that the work could provide a recipe for a bioweapon.

The government-funded experiments were done by researchers who wanted to understand if bird flu virus might change in the future to cause a pandemic in people. By tweaking genes, they made the deadly bird flu virus more contagious between lab animals.

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Shots - Health Blog
11:05 am
Thu December 15, 2011

Biomedical Research Using Chimps Should Be Curtailed

Updated 1:30 p.m.: The National Institutes of Health accepts the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine report on chimpanzee research, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said in a statement. "We will not issue any new awards for research involving chimpanzees until processes for implementing the recommendations are in place," he said.

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Research News
2:58 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

No 'God Particle' Yet, But Scientists Say Stay Tuned

This image, from a sensor at the particle accelerator at CERN, is an example of the data signature a Higgs particle might generate. Researchers will spend into 2012 sifting through data in an attempt to find the Higgs.
CERN

Physicists have a grand theory that describes how tiny particles interact to form all the stuff we see in the universe — everything from planets to toasters to human beings.

But there is one particle predicted by this theory that has never been detected in experiments. It's called the Higgs boson. Scientists are dying to know if it really exists — and now researchers are closer to finding out than ever before.

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Animals
2:48 pm
Thu December 8, 2011

Cagebreak! Rats Will Work To Free A Trapped Pal

Science/AAAS

Originally published on Fri December 9, 2011 10:35 am

Calling someone a "rat" is no compliment, but a new study shows that rats actually are empathetic and will altruistically lend a helping paw to a cage mate who is stuck in a trap.

Not only will rats frantically work to free their trapped cage mate; they will do so even when there's a tempting little pile of chocolate chips nearby, the study reveals. Instead of leaving their pal in the trap and selfishly gobbling the candy all by themselves, rats will free their cage mate and share the chocolate.

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Space
5:39 pm
Mon December 5, 2011

Found: Earth-Like Planet That Might Be Right For Life

This artist's conception illustrates Kepler-22b, a planet known to comfortably circle in the habitable zone of a sun-like star. It is the first planet that NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed to orbit in a star's habitable zone — the region around a star where liquid water, a requirement for life on Earth, could persist.
NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

Scientists have discovered a planet not too much bigger than Earth that's circling a distant star that's much like our own Sun. What's more, this planet is in the so-called "Goldilocks zone" around that star — a region that's not too hot and not too cold. That's the kind of place that could be home to liquid water and maybe even life.

The planet, known as Kepler-22b, is the first near-Earth-sized planet to be found smack dab in the middle of the habitable zone of a twin to our Sun.

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Science
12:01 am
Wed November 30, 2011

Complaint Tests Rule Protecting Science From Politics

Originally published on Wed November 30, 2011 12:07 pm

One of the first things President Obama did after he took office was put out a memo that basically said: Don't mess with science.

The March 9, 2009, memorandum stated that "political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions" and said all government agencies should have appropriate rules and procedures to safeguard the scientific process.

Nearly three years later, only a few have finalized new policies — though they're starting to be put to the test.

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