Geoff Brumfiel

Geoff Brumfiel works as a senior editor and correspondent on NPR's science desk. His editing duties include climate and environment, while his reporting focuses on the intersection of science and national security.

From April of 2016 to September of 2018, Brumfiel served as an editor overseeing basic research and climate science. Prior to that, he worked for three years as a reporter covering physics and space for the network. 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.

Before NPR, Brumfiel was based in London as a senior reporter for Nature Magazine from 2007-2013. There, he covered energy, space, climate, and the physical sciences. From 2002 – 2007, Brumfiel was Nature Magazine's Washington Correspondent.

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

It's one of the greatest, and most disturbing, questions of the Fukushima disaster: What happened to the nuclear fuel inside the plant? Now physicists are trying to shed some light on the problem using particles from the edge of space.

The Fukushima accident was broadcast around the world. On March 11, 2011, an earthquake and tsunami struck the plant, knocking out cooling in three working reactors. The uranium fuel inside melted down.

But nobody's quite sure where it went.

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Now to space, and we'll take the elevator. The U.S. Patent Office has granted a patent for a freestanding space elevator tower. The idea of a space elevator has long captured the imaginations of writers, from Arthur C. Clarke to Roald Dahl.

Learning to make sounds by listening to others is a skill that helps make us human.

But research now suggests a species of monkey may have evolved similar abilities.

Marmosets have the capacity to learn calls from their parents, according to research published Thursday in the journal Science. The results mean that studying marmosets might provide insights into developmental disorders found in humans. It also suggests that vocal learning may be more widespread than many researchers thought.

In space, food is freeze-dried, prepackaged, and frankly not always very tasty. But on Monday aboard the International Space Station, astronauts got a rare treat: fresh lettuce.

The red romaine lettuce was grown by NASA's Veggie project, which has one goal — to bring salad to space.

The name Hiroshima is so tied to the atomic bomb that it's hard to imagine there were other possible targets.

But in early 1945, the U.S. was still months away from building its first bomb and certainly didn't know what to hit.

"Should it be a city? Should it be a military installation? Should you be just displaying the bomb, without killing anybody?" These are questions that were yet to be decided, says Alex Wellerstein, a historian at the Stevens Institute of Technology.

"I have a hard time saying this with a straight face, but I will: You can teleport a single atom from one place to another," says Chris Monroe, a biophysicist at the University of Maryland.

His lab's setup in a university basement looks nothing like the slick transporters that rearrange atoms and send them someplace else on Star Trek. Instead, a couple million dollars' worth of lasers, mirrors and lenses lay sprawled across a 20-foot table.

Scientists with NASA's mission to Pluto revealed stunning new images of the dwarf planet on Friday. Researchers say the pictures suggest an icy world complete with glaciers and "snow" that falls through a wispy atmosphere.

Scientists have unveiled the best photos of Pluto and its moons that humanity is likely to see for at least a generation. These images were taken Tuesday by NASA's New Horizons space probe as it hurtled past Pluto at more than 30,000 miles per hour.

Since its discovery in 1930, Pluto has revealed itself to be an oddball world. It's smaller than our own moon, and it orbits at an angle relative to the plane of the solar system. Because of its size and distance, even the Hubble Space Telescope could only make it out as a brown smudge, billions of miles away.

Alice Bowman oversees daily operations for NASA's mission to Pluto. Her language is peppered with technical terms — like "astronomical units" and "aim points."

But there's one piece of scientific nomenclature you won't hear coming from Bowman's lips: dwarf planet.

"Pluto is a planet," she says. "And that's the way I will always think of it."

It has taken nearly a decade and 3 billion miles to get there, but scientists are about to get their first look at Pluto.

The New Horizons spacecraft is closing fast on the tiny world once thought to be at the edge of our solar system. On Tuesday the probe will begin an intensive nine-day scientific study of Pluto and its moons.

The stakes are high for a routine cargo mission to the International Space Station, after a string of failures has left the orbiting outpost running somewhat low on supplies.

New data from NASA's GRACE satellites show that many of the world's biggest aquifers are being sucked dry at a rate far greater than they are being replenished. Although scientists don't know how much water is left, they hope their findings will serve as a "red flag" for regions that may be overusing water.

On Friday, 24 robots and their masters will be going head-to-head in California for a $2 million prize. The robotics challenge is sponsored by the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Those fearing the Pentagon-sponsored prize could signal the dawn of Terminator-style cyborgs needn't worry. "Even though they look like us, and they may look a little bit mean, there's really nothing inside," says Gill Pratt, the program manager running this competition. "What you're really seeing is a puppet."

A team of government scientists has revised its estimate for how much the planet has been warming.

The new results, published in the journal Science, may dispel the idea that Earth has been in the midst of a "global warming hiatus" — a period over the past 20 years where the planet's temperature appears to have risen very little.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still trying to figure out how the military managed to ship anthrax spores that were apparently live from one of its facilities to more than a dozen labs across the United States.

"We have a team at the [military] lab to determine what may have led to this incident," says CDC spokesman Jason McDonald. In addition, he says, the agency is working with health officials in nine states to make sure the potentially live samples are safely disposed of and the labs affected are decontaminated.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Scientists did something today that they have never done before. They successfully landed a probe named Philae - P, H, I, L, A, E - on the surface of a comet.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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."

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