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.


1:09 pm
Fri October 2, 2015

What's At The Edge Of A Cloud?

Using an instrument they've named the HOLODEC, for Holographic Detector for Clouds, scientists can now see in fine detail the way air and water droplets mix at a cloud's wispiest edge.

Originally published on Fri October 2, 2015 5:55 pm

Scientists have just made a breakthrough in understanding how clouds interact with the surrounding air by studying some of the most boring clouds you can imagine in unprecedented detail.

"If you ask a child to draw a cloud they would draw a white puffy cloud floating in the air all by itself — and that's the kind of cloud we were looking at," says Raymond Shaw, an atmospheric scientist at Michigan Technological University.

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Shots - Health News
4:07 pm
Wed September 16, 2015

Caffeine At Night Resets Your Inner Clock

Gulping down coffee to stay awake at night delays the body's natural surge of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Hayato D./Flickr

Originally published on Fri September 18, 2015 9:25 am

Everyone knows that caffeine can keep you awake, but a new study shows that the world's most popular drug can actually interfere with your body's internal sense of time.

"The circadian clock is way beyond 'sleep and wake,' " says Kenneth Wright, a sleep and circadian physiologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. "The circadian clock is present in cells throughout our entire body. It's in your fat cells; it's in your muscle cells. It's in your liver, for example, as well as in your brain."

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The Two-Way
4:37 pm
Fri September 11, 2015

What Would Happen If We Burned Up All Of Earth's Fossil Fuels?

The Antarctic ice sheet stores more than half of Earth's fresh water. Scientists wondered how much of it would melt if people burned all the fossil fuels on the planet.
UPI /Landov

Originally published on Fri September 11, 2015 6:43 pm

Scientists today laid out a truly worst-case scenario for global warming — what would happen if we burned the Earth's entire supply of fossil fuels.

Virtually all of Antarctica's ice would melt, leading to a 160- to 200-foot sea level rise.

"If we burn it all, we're going to melt it all," says Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science.

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Shots - Health News
5:22 am
Thu September 10, 2015

South African Cave Yields Strange Bones Of Early Human-Like Species

National Geographic paleoartist John Gurche used fossils from a South African cave to reconstruct the face of Homo naledi, the newest addition to the genus Homo.
Photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic

Originally published on Fri September 11, 2015 12:38 pm

Scientists have discovered the fossilized remains of an unusual human-like creature that lived long ago. Exactly how long ago is still a mystery — and that's not the only mystery surrounding this newfound species.

The bones have a strange mix of primitive and modern features, and were found in an even stranger place — an almost inaccessible chamber deep inside a South African cave called Rising Star.

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Goats and Soda
6:17 pm
Tue September 8, 2015

Cellphone Records Could Help Predict Dengue Outbreak

Cellphone records could help epidemiologists predict which cities and towns might be hit next by dengue, the most rapidly spreading mosquito-borne disease in the world.

That's because cellphone records let scientists track how people actually move around, says Amy Wesolowski, a researcher who models epidemics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

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Goats and Soda
5:25 pm
Wed September 2, 2015

Tree Counter Is Astonished By How Many Trees There Are

An impala strikes a pose under a forest canopy in Zimbabwe.
Morkel Erasmus Getty Images/Gallo Images

Originally published on Thu September 3, 2015 2:11 pm

Here is a pop quiz: How many trees are on the planet?

Most people have no idea.

A new study says the answer is more than 3 trillion trees — that's trillion with a T, and that number is about eight times more than a previous estimate.

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5:38 am
Mon August 31, 2015

How Are U.N. Climate Talks Like A Middle School? Cliques Rule

Delegates took their seats during the plenary session at the Bonn climate change conference on March 10, 2014. Negotiations resume this week; by the end of the year, the U.N. hopes to have forged a new global agreement.

Originally published on Mon August 31, 2015 7:40 pm

It seems to be part of human nature to want to belong to a group. People constantly form groups, in all kinds of situations, and high-stakes negotiations on climate change are no exception.

Ever heard of the Umbrella Group? Or the Like-Minded Developing Countries? How about the Group of 77? (Here's a hint — it doesn't actually have 77 countries.)

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5:18 pm
Thu August 27, 2015

Froggy Went A-Courtin', But Lady Frogs Chose Second-Best Guy Instead

Originally published on Thu August 27, 2015 6:23 pm

Picking a mate can be one of life's most important decisions. But sometimes people make a choice that seems to make no sense at all. And humans aren't the only ones — scientists have now seen apparently irrational romantic decisions in frogs.

Little tungara frogs live in Central America, and they're found everywhere from forests to ditches to parking lot puddles. These frogs are only about 2 centimeters long, but they are loud. The males make calls to woo the females.

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Around the Nation
5:13 am
Wed August 19, 2015

How Dorothy Parker's Ashes Ended Up In Baltimore

Originally published on Wed August 19, 2015 8:09 am

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit

All Tech Considered
12:40 pm
Thu August 13, 2015

Drones Increase Heart Rates Of Wild Bears. Too Much Stress?

A brown bear in its natural habitat. Wildlife ecologists in Minnesota found that black bears in their study experienced an increase in heart rate when buzzed by drones.

Originally published on Fri August 14, 2015 12:52 pm

For wildlife biologists, unmanned aerial vehicles are like a dream come true.

Instead of struggling through rugged, difficult terrain to get to the animal they want to study, they can just send in a drone with a camera.

And as drones get cheaper and more available, everyone in biology seems to have new ideas for how to use them, says Mark Ditmer, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul.

But how do the animals feel about these little UFOs hovering overhead?

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2:04 pm
Wed August 12, 2015

Octopus Genome Offers Insights Into One Of Ocean's Cleverest Oddballs

A juvenile California two-spot octopus (Octopus bimaculoides).
Michael LaBarbera/Nature

Originally published on Wed August 12, 2015 7:26 pm

Scientists have just sequenced the first genome of an octopus, and it was no trivial task.

"The octopus has a very large genome. It's nearly the size of the human genome," says Carrie Albertin, a biologist at the University of Chicago.

As technology to sequence DNA has gotten faster and cheaper, scientists have unraveled the genes of all kinds of creatures. But until now, no one had done an octopus — despite its obvious appeal as one of the weirdest animals on Earth.

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5:20 pm
Mon August 10, 2015

Astronomers Present New Research On The Aging Universe

Originally published on Wed August 12, 2015 9:56 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



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Shots - Health News
2:18 pm
Fri August 7, 2015

Eye Shapes Of The Animal World Hint At Differences In Our Lifestyles

Can you guess which eyes belong to what animal? Top row, from left: cuttlefish, lion, goat. Bottom row, from left: domestic cat, horse, gecko.
Top row: iStockphoto; bottom row: Flickr

Originally published on Wed August 12, 2015 1:52 pm

Take a close look at a house cat's eyes and you'll see pupils that look like vertical slits. But a tiger has round pupils — like humans do. And the eyes of other animals, like goats and horses, have slits that are horizontal.

Scientists have now done the first comprehensive study of these three kinds of pupils. The shape of the animal's pupil, it turns out, is closely related to the animal's size and whether it's a predator or prey.

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The Salt
3:20 pm
Mon August 3, 2015

Heavy Loads Of Pollen May Shift Flight Plans Of The Bumblebee

Ready, set, fly! The ball bearings glued to this bumblebee's legs simulate the weight and placement of pollen loads. The tag on the insect's back is a lightweight sensor, designed to track its movements in flight.
Courtesy of Andrew Mountcastle

Originally published on Tue August 4, 2015 10:52 am

Bumblebees are important pollinators of crops and wildflowers across the U.S., and they gather heavy loads of nectar and pollen from flowers. A study published Monday shows that the type of food they carry affects how they fly.

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5:07 am
Thu July 30, 2015

How 3-D Printing Helps Scientists Understand Bird Behavior

Originally published on Fri July 31, 2015 12:21 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



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4:42 pm
Wed July 8, 2015

Scientists Discover One Of The Oldest Horned Dinosaurs

Life reconstruction of Wendiceratops pinhorn.
Danielle Dufault/PLOS ONE

Originally published on Wed July 8, 2015 6:34 pm

Scientists have found a "new" horned dinosaur that lived about 79 million years ago — and they say the discovery helps them understand the early evolution of the family that includes Triceratops.

The new dinosaur, which was named Wendiceratops pinhornensis after a famous fossil hunter who discovered the bone bed in Canada where these fossils were buried, is one of the oldest known horned dinosaurs.

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4:13 pm
Thu July 2, 2015

Checking DNA Against Elephants Hints At How Mammoths Got Woolly

Mammoths had a distinctive version of a gene known to play a role in sensing outside temperature, moderating the biology of fat and regulating hair growth. That bit of DNA likely helped mammoths thrive in cold weather, scientists say.
Courtesy of Giant Screen Films, 2012 D3D Ice Age, LLC/Penn State University

Originally published on Fri July 3, 2015 7:55 am

Scientists say they've found a bit of DNA in woolly mammoths that could help explain how these huge beasts were so well-adapted to live in the cold of the last ice age.

Woolly mammoths had long shaggy fur, small tails and ears to minimize frostbite, and a lot of fat to help stay warm as they roamed the tundra more than 12,000 years ago.

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4:58 am
Tue June 30, 2015

U.N. Brokers Global Effort To Rein In Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Originally published on Tue June 30, 2015 8:06 am

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



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5:41 pm
Mon June 29, 2015

U.N. Holds Climate Talks In New York Ahead Of Paris Meeting

Originally published on Mon June 29, 2015 6:32 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



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The Two-Way
3:55 pm
Thu June 25, 2015

Study Reveals What Happens During A 'Glacial Earthquake'

One of the 20 GPS sensors deployed on Greenland's Helheim Glacier to track its movement.
Alistair Everett/Swansea University

Originally published on Fri June 26, 2015 7:35 am

When giant icebergs break off of huge, fast-moving glaciers, they essentially push back on those rivers of ice and temporarily reverse the flow.

That's according to a new study of "glacial earthquakes," an unusual kind of temblor discovered just over a decade ago.

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The Two-Way
1:04 pm
Wed June 24, 2015

How The Turtle Got Its Shell

An illustration of Pappochelys, based on its 240-million-year-old fossilized remains. This ancestor to today's turtle was about 8 inches long.
Rainer Schoch/Nature

Originally published on Fri August 28, 2015 3:12 pm

The fossilized remains of a bizarre-looking reptile are giving scientists new insights into how turtles got their distinctive shells.

Some 240 million years ago, this early turtle-like creature lived in a large lake, in a fairly warm, subtropical climate. But it didn't have the kind of shell modern turtles have, says Hans-Dieter Sues, a curator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

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3:03 pm
Mon June 15, 2015

Instead Of Replacing Missing Body Parts, Moon Jellies Recycle

Upon injury, juvenile jellyfish reorganize their bodies to regain symmetry.
Courtesy Michael Abrams, Ty Basinger, and Christopher Frick, California Institute of Technology/PNAS

Originally published on Mon June 15, 2015 6:39 pm

Moon jellies have an unusual self-repair strategy, scientists have learned. If one of these young jellies loses some limbs, it simply rearranges what's left until its body is once again symmetrical.

"We were not expecting to see that," says Michael Abrams, a graduate student in biology at the California Institute of Technology.

All creatures have tricks to heal themselves. If you get a cut, your skin will form a scar. And some sea creatures, like starfish and sea cucumbers, can regenerate lost body parts.

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The Two-Way
4:07 pm
Wed June 10, 2015

Saturn's Dark And Mysterious Outer Ring Is Even Bigger Than Expected

An artist's conception of how Saturn's immense Phoebe ring might appear to eyes sensitive to infrared wavelengths.
NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Originally published on Wed June 10, 2015 8:19 pm

Saturn is famous for its lovely rings, but this gas giant has another ring that people normally don't see — and some new observations with an infrared telescope show that this mysterious ring is even bigger than scientists thought.

The first hint that Saturn had this secret ring came back in 1671, when the Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini looked through a telescope and discovered the moon now known as Iapetus.

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Shots - Health News
2:02 pm
Thu June 4, 2015

How Many Viruses Have Infected You?

Originally published on Fri June 5, 2015 4:12 pm

A cheap new lab test can use just a drop of blood to reveal the different kinds of viruses you've been exposed to over your lifetime.

The test suggests that, on average, people have been infected with about ten different types of known virus families, including influenzas, and rhinoviruses that cause the common cold, according to a report published Thursday in Science.

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3:34 am
Mon June 1, 2015

Editing The Climate Talkers: Punctuation's Effect On Earth's Fate

Gustav Dejert Ikon Images/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed June 3, 2015 2:39 pm

In Bonn, Germany, hundreds of people have gathered to work on a draft version of a major United Nations agreement to control greenhouse gas emissions that are changing the Earth's climate.

And when I found out that climate change negotiations basically all boil down to writing and editing a document, I was intrigued.

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All Tech Considered
4:26 pm
Tue May 26, 2015

Higher-Tech Fake Eggs Offer Better Clues To Wild-Bird Behavior

One of these things is not like the other: A 3-D printed model of a beige cowbird egg stands out from its robin's egg nest mates, though their shape and heft are similar.
Ana Lopez/Courtesy of Mark Hauber

Originally published on Tue May 26, 2015 8:39 pm

Since the 1960s, biologists have made fake eggs for some studies of bird behavior. But Mark Hauber of Hunter College in New York says this kind of scientific handicraft is not exactly his forte.

"I'm a terrible craftsperson," he admits.

That's why Hauber is pioneering the use of 3-D printing technology to quickly produce made-to-order fake eggs, taking a bit of old-school science into the 21st century.

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Shots - Health News
2:10 pm
Thu May 21, 2015

You And Yeast Have More In Common Than You Might Think

This fungus among us — baker's yeast, aka Saccharomyces cerevisiae — is useful for more than just making bread.

Originally published on Fri May 22, 2015 4:02 pm

Rip open a little package of baker's yeast from the supermarket, peer inside, and you'll see your distant cousin.

That's because we share a common ancestor with yeast, and a new study in the journal Science suggest that we also share hundreds of genes that haven't really changed in a billion years.

Edward Marcotte, a biologist at the University of Texas at Austin, knew that humans and yeast have thousands of similar genes. But, he wondered, how similar are they?

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8:03 pm
Tue May 19, 2015

Earth's First Snake Likely Evolved On Land, Not In Water

The most recent common ancestor of all today's snakes likely lived 120 million years ago. Scientists believe it used needle-like hooked teeth to grab rodent-like creatures that it then swallowed whole.
Julius Csotonyi/BMC Evolutionary Biology

Originally published on Wed May 20, 2015 12:09 pm

Some scientists have speculated that snakes first evolved in water and that their long, slithery bodies were streamlined for swimming. But a new analysis suggests that the most recent common ancestor of all snakes actually lived on land.

This ancestral protosnake probably was a nocturnal hunter that slithered across the forest floor about 120 million years ago. And it likely had tiny hind limbs, left over from an even earlier ancestor, says Allison Hsiang, a researcher at Yale University.

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The Two-Way
8:23 pm
Tue May 12, 2015

How Bird Beaks Got Their Start As Dinosaur Snouts

The skull of a chicken embryo (left) has a recognizable beak. But when scientists block the expression of two particular genes, the embryo develops a rounded "snout" (center) that looks something like an alligator's skull (right).
Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar

Originally published on Wed May 13, 2015 12:01 pm

Scientists say they have reversed a bit of bird evolution in the lab and re-created a dinosaurlike snout in developing chickens.

"In this work, we can clearly see a comeback of the characteristics which we see in some of the first birds," says Arhat Abzhanov, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University.

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3:25 am
Mon May 11, 2015

Two Guys In Paris Aim To Charm The World Into Climate Action

ADP Co-chairs Daniel Reifsnyder (left) and Ahmed Djoghlaf (center) say their negotiation work is difficult but worth it. "We only have one planet, you know," Reifsnyder says. "We have to protect it."
Courtesy of IISD/ENB

Originally published on Thu June 18, 2015 2:51 pm

Here's a job that sounds perfect for either a superhero or a glutton for punishment: Get nearly 200 countries to finally agree to take serious action on climate change.

Two men have taken on this challenge. They're leading some international negotiations that will wrap up later this year in Paris at a major United Nations conference on climate change.

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