Listen

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.

An effort to understand the full genetic makeup of more than 70,000 mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fishes has taken some major steps forward, with scientists unveiling the DNA sequences of 25 species including the Canada lynx, platypus, and zig-zag eel.

Updated April 23, 2021 at 5:24 PM ET

It was 4 o'clock in the morning, well before sunrise, and cold. A light wintry mix of rain and snow was falling. The lousy weather was a relief, as it meant even less of a chance that someone might randomly pass by. The small group of scientists didn't want anyone to see what they were about to do.

More than a billion biological specimens are thought to be stashed away in museums and universities and other places across the United States — everything from dead fish floating in glass jars to dried plants pressed between paper to vials of microbes chilling in a freezer.

Until recently, it's been hard to for researchers to locate all the potentially useful stuff scattered around in storage, even though caretakers say these treasures are like time machines that offer an unrivaled opportunity to understand global change.

Octopuses have alternating periods of "quiet" and "active" sleep that make their rest similar to that of mammals, despite being separated by more than 500 million years of evolution.

During their active periods of sleep, octopuses' skin color changes and their bodies twitch, according to a report in the journal iScience, and they might even have short dreams.

NASA is counting down to what should be the final major test of the massive rocket it is building to put the first woman and the next man on the moon.

Updated at 5:40 p.m.

A panel of experts that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given its blessing to a new one-shot vaccine for COVID-19.

An ancient, well-preserved tree that was alive the last time the Earth's magnetic poles flipped has helped scientists pin down more precise timing of that event, which occurred about 42,000 years ago.

Tattoo artists in Europe are fighting a new ban on two commonly-used green and blue pigments, saying that losing these ink ingredients would be a disaster for their industry and their art.

A horn made from a conch shell over 17,000 years ago has blasted out musical notes for the first time in millennia.

Archaeologists originally found the seashell in 1931, in a French cave that contains prehistoric wall paintings. They speculated that the cave's past occupants had used the shell as a ceremonial cup for shared drinks, and that a hole in its tip was just accidental damage.

The oldest ice on Earth probably is hiding somewhere in Antarctica, because this frozen continent holds ice that's hundreds of thousands and even millions of years old. Scientists are hoping to find it.

But even the scientists hunting for old ice aren't sure how long the very oldest ice might have stuck around, says John Higgins, a geochemist at Princeton University.

When Linsey Marr looks back at the beginning of 2020, what strikes her is how few people in the world really understood how viruses can travel through the air.

"In the past year, we've come farther in understanding airborne transmission, or at least kind of beyond just the few experts who study it, than we have in decades," says Marr. "Frankly, I thought it would take us another 30 years to get to where we are now."

Look up at the night sky and, if you're away from city lights, you'll see stars. The space between those bright points of light is, of course, filled with inky blackness.

Some astronomers have wondered about that all that dark space — about how dark it really is.

A NASA spacecraft sent out to collect a sample of rock and dust from an asteroid has nabbed so much that it's created an unexpected problem.

Rocks are jammed in the device in a way that's keeping a Mylar flap open, creating a gap that's letting some of the collected pebbles and dust drift out into space.

Updated at 7:30 p.m. ET

A NASA spacecraft successfully touched down on a skyscraper-sized asteroid 200 million miles away, in order to collect a small amount of rock and dust that can then be returned to Earth.

The probe, called OSIRIS-REx, is about as big as a 15-passenger van, and it was aiming for a specific spot inside a boulder-strewn crater. The maneuver was tricky and fraught with peril, as the spacecraft had to reach a safe area that's only the size of a few parking spaces.

Last week, craving sweets, Colin Purrington remembered the Twinkies.

He'd purchased them back in 2012 for sentimental reasons when he heard that Hostess Brands was going bankrupt and Twinkies might disappear forever.

"When there's no desserts in the house, you get desperate," says Purrington, who went down to the basement and retrieved the old box of snack cakes, fully intending to enjoy several.

The Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded this year to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna for their work on "genetic scissors" that can cut DNA at a precise location, allowing scientists to make specific changes to specific genes.

Giant flares and eruptions from the sun can cause space weather, and stormy space weather can interfere with everything from satellites to the electrical grid to airplane communications. Now, though, there's good news for people who monitor the phenomenon — the sun has passed from one of its 11-year activity cycles into another, and scientists predict that the new cycle should be just about as calm as the last.

Scientists say they've detected a gas in the clouds of Venus that, on Earth, is produced by microbial life.

The researchers have racked their brains trying to understand why this toxic gas, phosphine, is there in such quantities, but they can't think of any geologic or chemical explanation.

The mystery raises the astonishing possibility that Venus, the planet that comes closest to Earth as it whizzes around the sun, might have some kind of life flourishing more than 30 miles up in its yellow, hazy clouds.

Mike Brown has been using the Hubble Space Telescope pretty consistently for most of the past three decades since it launched in 1990. But recently he had an experience with Hubble that he never had before.

With the annual flu season about to start, it's still unclear exactly how influenza virus will interact with the coronavirus if a person has both viruses.

Water on Earth is omnipresent and essential for life as we know it, and yet scientists remain a bit baffled about where all of this water came from: Was it present when the planet formed, or did the planet form dry and only later get its water from impacts with water-rich objects such as comets?

This year's flu season in the Southern Hemisphere was weirdly mild.

A surprisingly small number of people in the Southern Hemisphere have gotten the flu this year, probably because the public health measures put in place to fight COVID-19 have also limited the spread of influenza.

That makes public health experts hopeful that the U. S. and other northern countries might be spared the double whammy of COVID-19 and a bad flu season this winter.

Still, they warn against complacency and say people still need to get vaccinated against the flu.

When a weather station in Death Valley, Calif., registered an astonishing 130 degrees Fahrenheit this week, it got meteorologists' attention.

After all, there's a possibility that this is the highest such temperature ever reliably recorded on Earth — if it's for real.

Updated at 6:40 p.m. ET

Two NASA astronauts are back on Earth after their space capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Pensacola, Fla.

The last time any NASA astronauts came home by splashing down was in 1975 — and back then, they were in an Apollo space vehicle. This time, the astronauts were in a white, bell-shaped capsule owned by SpaceX.

Updated 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

The two astronauts that blasted off in the first private space vehicle to take people to the International Space Station are about to return to Earth — by splashing down in the waters around Florida.

This will be the first planned splashdown for space travelers since 1975, although a Russian Soyuz capsule did have to do an emergency lake landing in 1976.

A mosquito that transmits dangerous viruses like dengue and Zika seems to have developed a taste for human blood because of the way that people store water — which mosquitoes need for laying eggs — in hot, dry climates.

That's according to a new study in Current Biology that tested the biting preferences of Aedes aegypti populations from 27 locations across sub-Saharan Africa, the ancestral home of this mosquito species.

Rats will enthusiastically work to free a rat caught in a trap — and it turns out that they are especially eager to be a good Samaritan when they're in the company of other willing helpers.

But that urge to come to the rescue quickly disappears if a potential hero is surrounded by indifferent rat pals that make no move to assist the unfortunate, trapped rodent.

Dolphins learn special foraging techniques from their mothers—and it's now clear that they can learn from their buddies as well. Take the clever trick that some dolphins use to catch fish by trapping them in seashells. It turns out that they learn this skill by watching their pals do the job.

The discovery, reported in the journal Current Biology, helps reveal how groups of wild animals can transmit learned behaviors and develop their own distinct cultures.

Shortly after NASA astronauts blasted off from U.S. soil for the first time since 2011, President Trump painted a dire picture of what the space agency had looked like when he first came to office.

"There was grass growing through the cracks of your concrete runways — not a pretty sight, not a pretty sight at all," he said at NASA's enormous Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where he had come to watch two astronauts launch to orbit in a vehicle owned and operated by SpaceX.

Almost 40 years have passed since the last time NASA astronauts blasted off into space on a brand new spaceship.

Now, as NASA looks forward to Wednesday's planned test flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon with a pair of astronauts on board, some in the spaceflight community have a little bit of déjà vu.

Pages