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.

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.

Mike Massimino is one of the last people to ever see the Hubble Space Telescope in person.

From inside his orbiting space shuttle, the telescope first appeared on the horizon as a star, says Massimino, who was an astronaut on the final mission to service the space telescope in 2009.

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Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's a question that bedevils dog owners the world over: "Is she staring at me because she loves me? Or because she wants another biscuit?"

In space, all they have is instant.

"For an instant coffee, it's an excellent instant coffee," says Vickie Kloeris, who manages the space station's food supply for NASA. Astronauts are allotted up to three freeze-dried cups (pouches, actually) a day, and Kloeris says it's "extremely popular."

But, she adds, "Can it compete with brewed espresso? No."

Daniel Swann is exactly the type of person the National Security Agency would love to have working for it. The 22-year-old is a fourth-year concurrent bachelor's-master's student at Johns Hopkins University with a bright future in cybersecurity.

And growing up in Annapolis, Md., not far from the NSA's headquarters, Swann thought he might work at the agency, which intercepts phone calls, emails and other so-called "signals intelligence" from U.S. adversaries.

Researchers have answered a question that has been nagging them for years: Exactly how long is a day on the planet Saturn? The result (10 hours and 32 minutes or so) was published this week in the journal Nature, and could teach scientists more about the giant, ringed planet.

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 "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.

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