Geoff Brumfiel

Science correspondent Geoff Brumfiel's reports on physics, space, and all things nuclear can be heard across NPR News programs and on NPR.org.

Brumfiel has carried his microphone into ghost villages created by the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan. He's tracked the journey of highly enriched uranium as it was shipped out of Poland. For a story on how animals drink, he crouched for over an hour and tried to convince his neighbor's cat to lap a bowl of milk. He became a full-time correspondent in March of 2013.

Prior to NPR, Geoff was based in London as a senior reporter for Nature Magazine from 2007-2013. There he covered energy, space, climate, and the physical sciences. In addition to reporting, he was a member of the award-winning Nature podcast team. From 2002 – 2007, Brumfiel was Nature Magazine's Washington Correspondent, reporting on Congress, the Bush administration, NASA, and the National Science Foundation, as well as the Departments of Energy and Defense.

He began his journalism career working on the American Physical Society's "Focus" website, which is now part of Physics.

Brumfiel is the 2013 winner of the Association of British Science Writers award for news reporting on the Fukushima nuclear accident.

He graduated from Grinnell College with a BA double degree in physics and English, and earned his Masters in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

Saturn's moon Enceladus is a mystery. From Earth it looks tiny and cold, and yet it's not a dead hunk of rock. Passing spacecraft see trenches and ridges, similar to Earth's, and in 2005 NASA's Cassini mission spotted ice geysers streaming from its south pole.

Scientists who warn that the earth's climate is changing have been subjected to hacking, investigations, and even court action in recent years. That ire usually comes from conservative groups and climate skeptics seeking to discredit the research findings.

Updated at 9:45 a.m. ET.

This morning, a plucky NASA spacecraft has entered the orbit of one of the oddest little worlds in our solar system.

Ceres is round like a planet, but really small. Its total surface would cover just a third of the United States.

Gerbils are a beloved classroom pet, but they might also be deadly killers. A study now claims that gerbils helped bring bubonic plague to Medieval Europe and contributed to the deaths of millions.

Plague is caused by bacteria (Yersinia pestis) found in rodents, and the fleas that live on rodents. The rodent that's usually Suspect Zero is the rat.

The love between two ferns knows few bounds, it appears. A DNA analysis of a hybrid fern shows that its parents are two different species separated by nearly 60 million years of evolution.

"A 60 million year divergence is approximately equivalent to a human mating with a lemur," says Carl Rothfels, a fern researcher at the University of British Columbia, who headed the study. The hybrid is a record, he says.

Earlier this month the U.S. Navy's research office rented out a conference center in Washington, D.C., to show off some of its hottest new technology.

On display was an electromagnetic gun, and drones that could swarm around an enemy ship. But it wasn't all James Bond-style gadgets.

Charles Townes, a physicist who won the Nobel Prize for his part in the invention of the laser died Tuesday at 99.

Townes is best remembered for thinking up the basic principles of the laser while sitting on a park bench. Later in life he advised the U.S. government and helped uncover the secrets of our Milky Way galaxy.

Researchers in Europe have managed to read from an ancient scroll buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. The feat is all the more remarkable because the scroll was never opened.

The Vesuvius eruption famously destroyed Pompeii. But it also devastated the nearby town of Herculaneum. A villa there contained a library stacked with papyrus scrolls, and the hot gas and ash preserved them.

Sort of.

The New England Patriots are headed to the Super Bowl.

But there is a flat, squishy cloud over the Patriots' 45-7 victory against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday: The NFL is looking into allegations that the Patriots deflated the football to give themselves an advantage.

Two scientists say that "deflate-gate" isn't entirely hot air.

The "Lone Genius" character is hot right now in television and movies. Sometimes the genius is real (think Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game), and sometimes he's fictional (think Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock). But one thing is almost always certain: He's a guy.

Now one researcher says that gender stereotype in art may have a real impact on women in academia.

Researchers have developed a computer program they say can beat any human on the planet at a particular variant of Texas Hold'em poker.

The scientists aren't planning to clean up with their powerful poker bot. Instead, they hope it can help computers become better decision-makers in the face of uncertainty. The work is published Thursday in the journal Science.

Update at 6:46 a.m. ET. Launch Scrubbed:

Early on Tuesday, SpaceX scrubbed a scheduled launch, citing technical problems. The next possible attempt is Friday at 5:09 ET, NASA said.

Our Original Post Continues:

What do a pigeon and a flamingo have in common? Quite a bit, according to a reordering of the evolutionary tree of birds.

One of a series of studies published Thursday in Science is the latest step toward understanding the origins of the roughly 10,000 bird species that populate our planet.

Humanity has snapped detailed portraits of planets and moons throughout our solar system. But there's one missing from the album: Pluto.

Although Pluto was discovered in 1930, it has remained stubbornly hard to photograph. The Hubble Space Telescope has taken the best pictures, and frankly, they stink.

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

Transcript

NASA is about to launch a new spaceship into orbit, and Mallory Loe has never heard of it.

"I mean, technically, NASA doesn't have another spaceship, do they?" she asks incredulously during a visit to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

She's hardly the only one who doesn't know about this new spacecraft. In fact, none of a half-dozen tourists NPR interviewed in the museum's lobby was aware of the Orion spaceship.

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

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And now this - Thanksgiving in space. This year, two American astronauts will be celebrating the holiday aboard the International Space Station. As NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports, Thanksgiving in orbit has its pros and cons.

Updated at 3:45PM ET

It was the first ever landing on a comet, and it was perfect.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of the journey for the European Space Agency's unmanned Philae lander. After touching down on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, the lander bounced off the surface and flew a kilometer back up into space.

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

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

The European Space Agency is about to try to put a probe where none has gone before: on the surface of a comet.

Humans have never landed anything on a comet's surface. That may change tomorrow.

The European Space Agency's Rosetta mission is poised to send out a small probe to land on a comet known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta spent 10 years chasing the comet before arriving in August.

The dream of hundreds of space tourists was dealt a blow last Friday when Virgin Galactic's experimental SpaceShipTwo broke up over California's Mojave Desert. The pilot was injured and the co-pilot died in the accident.

But many are still holding on to their tickets.

Evolution has shaped every part of the body, and that includes our private parts. New research published this week sheds light on how the penis evolved and how it forms in different animals.

The research might also one day help illuminate a medical mystery: Birth defects of the penis have risen sharply in recent decades, and nobody is sure why.

Penises weren't necessary when our early ancestors lived in the ocean. A female could lay eggs, and a male could just swim by and excrete some sperm. It would all mix and fertilize in the water.

"My own personal opinion is that time is a human construct," says Tom O'Brian. O'Brian has thought a lot about this over the years. He is America's official timekeeper at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado.

To him, days, hours, minutes and seconds are a way for humanity to "put some order in this very fascinating and complex universe around us."

In what could be a major setback for commercial space tourism, a manned spaceship has crashed in California's Mojave Desert.

The Virgin Galactic Spaceship Two was on a test flight this morning, with two pilots aboard. Minutes after its rocket fired, the company announced on Twitter that spacecraft experienced an "anomaly."

Capt. Tom Ellison of Kern County Fire Department said that Spaceship Two had a malfunction shortly after it separated from White Knight Two, the rocket that gives Spaceship Two a lift up to 45,000 feet.

A careful examination of frozen caribou poop has turned up two never-before-seen viruses.

The viruses are hundreds of years old: One of them probably infected plants the caribous ate. The other may have infected insects that buzzed around the animals.

The findings prove viruses can survive for surprisingly long periods of time in a cold environment, according to Eric Delwart, a researcher at Blood Systems Research Institute in San Francisco.

A European spacecraft orbiting a distant comet has finally answered a question we've all been wondering: What does a comet smell like?

"It stinks," says Kathrin Altwegg, a researcher at the University of Bern in Switzerland who runs an instrument called ROSINA that picked up the odor.

Researchers have successfully decoded the genes of a 45,000-year-old man from Siberia. The results offer clues about early human life outside of Africa as well as how humans interacted with Neanderthals and other groups around at the time.

The complete set of genes is the oldest genome of its kind, according to Svante Pääbo, a director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. "It's almost twice as old as the next oldest genome that has been sequenced."

The Nobel Prize in physics was awarded Tuesday to three Japanese-born researchers for their work on the blue light-emitting diode, or LED.

And there's never been a better time to put their Nobel-prize winning discovery right in your own home. LED light bulbs, which use blue LEDs, are coming of age, and the price is dropping fast. You can pick them up for less than $10 each.

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