Geoff Brumfiel

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

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.

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Big news this week in commercial space travel. And to tell us all about it, NPR science correspondent Geoff Brumfiel is here. Hey, Geoff.


SHAPIRO: What exactly happened this week?

Astronomers have spotted what they believe to be the most distant object ever seen in our solar system.

The dwarf planet, known for now simply as V774104, is more than 100 times farther from the sun than we are. Astronomers aren't sure what it's doing out there, but they're hoping follow-up studies of its orbit will teach them more.

Climate change isn't just something to worry about here on Earth. New research published today shows that Mars has undergone a dramatic climate shift in the past that has rendered much of the planet inhospitable to life.

About 3.8 billion years ago, Mars was a reasonably pleasant place. It had a thick atmosphere filled with carbon dioxide that kept it warm. Rivers trickled into lakes across its surface. Some researchers think there might even have been an ocean.

Our world is made of matter. "Everything you see and feel — your laptop, your desk, your chair — they are all ordinary matter," says Aihong Tang, a researcher at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

But matter has a counterpart called antimatter. Each kind of fundamental particle of matter has an antimatter nemesis lurking in the shadows. And true to science-fiction stereotype, if matter and antimatter ever meet, they annihilate in a flash of light.

On Thursday morning, Patricia was a relatively small Category 1 hurricane. By Friday afternoon, it was the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere.

Is climate change to blame for this record-breaking storm's ferocious rise?

The answer is complex, and shows why it's so hard to tie a single weather event to global warming.

No names. No pictures. No direct conversation.

And don't touch the plutonium.

Those were the ground rules before NPR was allowed a rare opportunity to see nuclear inspectors learning their craft. The inspectors came from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world's nuclear watchdog.

Mars is cold and dry, but billions of years ago, it was cold and wet. That's according to new evidence from NASA's Curiosity rover, which is currently exploring a large crater on Mars.

Updated at 3:40 p.m. ET

A new analysis of data from Fukushima suggests children exposed to the March 2011 nuclear accident may be developing thyroid cancer at an elevated rate.

But independent experts say that the study, published in the journal Epidemiology, has numerous shortcomings and does not prove a link between the accident and cancer.

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This is Nobel Prize season, and this morning comes the prize in physics. Joining me in the studio is NPR science correspondent Geoff Brumfiel. Geoff, good morning.


GREENE: All right, so who won?

If you watch the film The Martian, you'll see Hollywood explosions and special effects galore, but you'll also see some serious science.

Actor Matt Damon, who plays stranded astronaut Mark Watney, must calculate his way through food shortages, Martian road trips and other misadventures as he fights to find a way off the Red Planet.

Numbers are a matter of life and death for Damon's astronaut, and in this movie they're not pulled from thin air.

Scientists have caught Mars crying salty tears.

Photos from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show dark streaks flowing down Martian slopes. The streaks appear in sunny spots or when the weather is warm, and they fade when the temperature drops.

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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.

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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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