Geoff Brumfiel | KERA News

Geoff Brumfiel

Science editor Geoff Brumfiel oversees coverage of everything from butterflies to black holes across NPR News programs and on NPR.org.

Prior to becoming the editor for fundamental research news in April of 2016, Brumfiel worked for three years as a reporter covering physics and space. 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. 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.

Space is a dangerous place. That message resonated again on Monday, when the Russian Federal Space Agency — Roscosmos — announced that a team of experimental geckos tasked with copulating while in orbit did not survive their journey.

"All geckos, unfortunately, died," the space agency said in a terse statement.

Roscosmos is launching an investigation into the exact circumstances surrounding the geckos' deaths, but the mission seemed star-crossed from the start.

Air pollution is clogging the skies of our planet. Now one scientist thinks Earth may be just one of many polluted worlds — and that searching for extraterrestrial smog may actually be a good way to search for alien intelligence.

"People refer to 'little green men,' but ETs that are detected by this method should not be labeled as green," says Avi Loeb, an astronomer at Harvard University.

The idea of finding alien polluters may be a bit of a long shot, but Loeb says it's possible.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Harvard roboticist Mike Rubenstein thought he was being clever when he came up with the name for the 1,024 little robots he built. He's into computers, so he thought of kilobytes and named them kilobots.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Tomorrow morning, a European space probe will arrive at a comet with a tongue-twister of a name: Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Getting there has been proven even trickier than pronouncing it.

The Rosetta spacecraft began its journey way back in March of 2004.

First it swung past Earth to gather speed. Then it catapulted out to Mars, for a boost from that planet's gravity field. Then in 2007, it came back to Earth for another push — then back out to an asteroid, and back to Earth.

It's been a long journey, but it's nearly over. On Wednesday, the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft will finally arrive at the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Humans have sent spacecraft hurtling past comets before, but Rosetta is doing something very different. It's sidling up next to 67P to join the big, dirty ice ball on its journey past the sun.

I spent months working with the U.S. Air Force to get access to a remote underground nuclear bunker in Nebraska for our radio series on America's missile forces. There was only one question left to answer before I left.

What did I want for lunch?

The stretch of Interstate 80 between Cheyenne, Wyo., and Lincoln, Neb., is straight and flat. High plains stretch out on either side.

But scattered along this unremarkable road, the Air Force keeps some of its most powerful weapons — Minuteman III nuclear missiles.

The young officers at F.E. Warren Air Force Base have an enormous job: to keep 150 nuclear-tipped missiles ready to launch at a moment's notice.

Understandably, they're expected to know exactly what they're doing.

Three times a month, they're tested on the weapons and the codes used to launch them. Anything less than 90 percent is a fail.

Shortly after news broke that a Malaysia Airlines flight crashed in eastern Ukraine, suspicions began to swirl that the plane had been shot down. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel speaks with Audie Cornish about the feasibility that a missile brought down the airliner.

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

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Physicists have used the world's most powerful laser to zap diamonds. The results, they say, could tell us more about the cores of giant planets.

"Diamonds have very special properties, besides being very expensive and used for jewelrey etc.," says Raymond Smith, a researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. "It's the hardest substance known to man."

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health made an unpleasant discovery last week as they cleaned out an old laboratory: The lab contained vials of the smallpox virus, previously unknown to authorities. The vials have since been transferred to a secure lab at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

NASA is preparing to launch a new satellite to observe carbon dioxide from space. The satellite could revolutionize our understanding of where this greenhouse gas comes from and where it goes.

NASA is preparing to launch a satellite capable of monitoring carbon dioxide emissions from space. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) will be the first U.S. spacecraft dedicated to seeing the greenhouse gas from orbit, and could pave the way for new technology to enforce future global warming treaties.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

In March, a team of physicists announced it had found a signal from the very first moments after the Big Bang. But in a paper published Thursday, the researchers expressed considerably more caution and conceded that they could have actually been detecting little more than interstellar dust.

While many millions are enjoying the drama of the World Cup, a handful of scientists are keeping their eyes very closely on the ball.

It sure looks suspicious: a remote military compound in the south-central Alaskan wilderness filled with 180 weird-looking antennas.

It's the home of the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP). Conspiracy theorists have accused the program of doing everything from mind control to global communications jamming.

Yesterday, entrepreneur Elon Musk sauntered on to stage and unveiled his latest product: not a smart phone, but a spaceship.

Tuesday afternoon, astronomers thought they saw a powerful explosion in the nearby Andromeda galaxy.

The Internet went wild with speculation about what it could be: Had two superdense neutron stars collided? Did a supermassive star explode?

"When I got up this morning and turned on my phone, I had a lot of emails and my Twitter feed was burning," says Phil Evans, an astronomer at the University of Leicester in Britain.

In February, a 55-gallon drum of radioactive waste burst open inside America's only nuclear dump, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

Now investigators believe the cause may have been a pet store purchase gone bad.

"It was the wrong kitty litter," says James Conca, a geochemist in Richland, Wash., who has spent decades in the nuclear waste business.

On May 20, 1964, two astronomers working at a New Jersey laboratory turned a giant microwave antenna toward what they thought would be a quiet part of the Milky Way. They weren't searching for anything; they were trying to make adjustments to their instrument before looking at more interesting things in the sky.

The two rockets pictured above may look the same, and in many ways they are: Both are launched pointy-end up, and both can carry a satellite into orbit.

But the rocket on the left, known as an Atlas V, costs between $100 million and $300 million more to launch (depending on whom you ask) than the one on the right, the Falcon 9.

So why has the U.S. Air Force just signed a contract to buy dozens of rockets like the Atlas V from a single supplier?

NASA's Curiosity rover is on an epic trip to a distant mountain, but it took a brief break Wednesday to dip its drill into the Martian soil.

The drilling is taking place at a place called Waypoint Kimberley. The area is a point of convergence for several different types of terrain, says John Grotzinger, the rover's project scientist. The exposed rock and different formations made the way point a good place to "stop and smell the roses," he says.

For decades, researchers and submarine crews in icy waters off the coast of Antarctica have been picking up a mysterious quacking sound.

The "bio-duck," as its called, has been heard on and off since Cold War patrols picked it up on sonar during the 1960s.

"It goes 'quack, quack, quack, quack,' " says Denise Risch, a marine biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "It has this almost mechanical feel to it."

Sharks have looked more or less the same for hundreds of millions of years. But a newly discovered fossil suggests that under the hood, a modern shark is very different from its ancient ancestors.

One month ago, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared during a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. An international search team has spent weeks combing the Indian Ocean for signs of the missing Boeing 777. Here's a summary of where we are with the hunt for the jetliner.

What do we know?

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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Audie Cornish.

Earlier today, Australian authorities said they may have a signal from the missing Malaysian airliner that disappeared a month ago on its way to Beijing. A ship far out in the Indian Ocean has picked up a signal that could be from the missing airliner's black boxes. Investigators need those boxes to determine what happened to Malaysian Air Flight 370.

Reading through the latest report from the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it's hard not to feel despondent about the state of the world.

The report's colorful charts and tables tell of droughts and fires; depleted fisheries and strained cropland; a world in which heat-related disease is on the rise and freshwater is growing scarce.

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