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Richard Harris

Award-winning journalist Richard Harris has reported on a wide range of topics in science, medicine and the environment since he joined NPR in 1986. In early 2014, his focus shifted from an emphasis on climate change and the environment to biomedical research.

Harris has traveled to all seven continents for NPR. His reports have originated from Timbuktu, the South Pole, the Galapagos Islands, Beijing during the SARS epidemic, the center of Greenland, the Amazon rain forest, the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro (for a story about tuberculosis), and Japan to cover the nuclear aftermath of the 2011 tsunami.
In 2010, Harris' reporting revealed that the blown-out BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico was spewing out far more oil than asserted in the official estimates. That revelation led the federal government to make a more realistic assessment of the extent of the spill.

Harris covered climate change for decades. He reported from the United Nations climate negotiations, starting with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and including Kyoto in 1997 and Copenhagen in 2009. Harris was a major contributor to NPR's award-winning 2007-2008 "Climate Connections" series.

Over the course of his career, Harris has been the recipient of many prestigious awards. Those include the American Geophysical Union's 2013 Presidential Citation for Science and Society. He shared the 2009 National Academy of Sciences Communication Award and was a finalist again in 2011. In 2002, Harris was elected an honorary member of Sigma Xi, the scientific research society. Harris shared a 1995 Peabody Award for investigative reporting on NPR about the tobacco industry. Since 1988, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has honored Harris three times with its science journalism award.

Before joining NPR, Harris was a science writer for the San Francisco Examiner. From 1981 to 1983, Harris was a staff writer at The Tri-Valley Herald in Livermore, California, covering science, technology, and health issues related to the nuclear weapons lab in Livermore. He started his career as an AAAS Mass Media Science Fellow at the now-defunct Washington (DC) Star.

Harris is co-founder of the Washington, D.C., Area Science Writers Association, and is past president of the National Association of Science Writers. He serves on the board of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

A California native, Harris returned to the University of California-Santa Cruz in 2012, to give a commencement address at Crown College, where he had given a valedictory address at his own graduation. He earned a bachelor's degree at the school in biology, with highest honors.

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Energy
3:15 am
Thu October 27, 2011

The Global Coal Trade's Complex Calculation

To feed China's insatiable demand for coal, U.S. companies are trying to sell and ship the lucrative commodity to the Asian market from new West Coast ports. Above, the cooling towers of a coal-fired power plant are seen on the outskirts of Beijing.

Frederic J. Brown AFP/Getty Images

This is the second of two reports on plans to export U.S. coal to China.

Coal producers in Wyoming and Montana are hoping new export terminals will be built in Washington state so they can ramp up their sales to China. Activists are trying to stop those ports, in part because they're concerned about global warming. But a thriving export market could also drive up the price of coal here in the United States, and that has climate implications as well.

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Energy
2:52 am
Wed October 26, 2011

In Northwest Town, A Local Fight Against Global Coal

Bellingham, Wash., a progressive college town of 81,000, could soon be home to a new coal terminal. Developers want to ship the lucrative commodity to China, but some locals are worried about the potential environmental impacts.

Brett Beadle for NPR

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 10:18 am

This is the first of two reports on plans to export U.S. coal to China.

Plans are afoot to build giant new coal terminals on the West Coast to ship this lucrative commodity to China. But activists want to stop this, in part because coal produces huge amounts of carbon dioxide when it's burned. Federal climate policy is silent on this potentially large source of emissions, so the debate is happening at the local level.

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Research News
11:01 pm
Thu October 20, 2011

'Living Fossils' Just A Branch On Cycad Family Tree

A giant dioon, seen at the United States Botanic Garden, is part of the cycad family and can be found growing in Mexico and Central America.

Maggie Starbard NPR

Originally published on Fri October 21, 2011 7:46 am

Although dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, there are still thought to be a few species left over from those days. Plants called cycads are among these rare "living fossils" — they have remained pretty much unchanged for more than 300 million years, but a study in Science magazine suggests that glamorous title may not be deserved.

There's no time machine in Washington, D.C., but Harvard botanist Sarah Mathews leads me to what's arguably the next best thing — a room made of glass in the U.S. Botanic Garden, just downhill from the U.S. Capitol.

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Research News
2:13 pm
Wed October 5, 2011

Nobel-Winning Chemist Fought Hard For Acceptance

Daniel Schectman, left, discusses the quasicrystal's structure with collaborators in 1985, just months after shaking the foundations of materials science. Schectman was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize for chemistry.

H. Mark Helfer NIST

If you or your mate shaved this morning with one of those thin-foil electric shavers, that face probably brushed up against a strange form of matter called a quasicrystal. Norelco is unlikely to get a Nobel Prize for that invention, but the man who discovered quasicrystals, Daniel Shechtman, will get this year's Nobel Prize in chemistry. And it didn't come easy.

Crystals, like diamonds and quartz, hold their sparkly allure because of the way the atoms inside those rocks line up so neatly.

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Research News
12:39 pm
Fri September 23, 2011

New Data Put Cosmic Speed Limit To The Test

A neutrino detector like this one, seen at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1995, was used to collect data claiming that neutrinos can travel faster than the speed of light.
Fred Rick Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

A fundamental rule of nature is that nothing travels faster than the speed of light. Now, physicists working in Europe say they may have discovered a sub-atomic particle that breaks that speed limit. But that extraordinary claim is being greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism.

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Environment
11:01 pm
Thu September 15, 2011

Arctic Ice Hits Near-Record Low, Threatening Wildlife

Ice on the Arctic Ocean has melted to its second-lowest level on record. Above, ice in a fjord in Greenland.
Slim Allagui AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri September 16, 2011 11:00 pm

Ice on the Arctic Ocean has melted to its second-lowest level on record, according to researchers in Colorado who track this trend. The summertime melt coincides with a dramatic warming over the past decade, and it's already affecting wildlife in the Arctic Ocean.

The Arctic ice comes and goes with the seasons; typically about half of the wintertime ice melts away by mid-September. After that low point, the ice regrows. In 2007, the amount of ice left in September hit a dramatic low.

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Science
2:47 pm
Thu September 15, 2011

This Machine Can Suck Carbon Out Of The Air

Carbon Engineering's machine, currently under construction, will draw carbon dioxide out of the air and turn it into a usable product.
Carbon Engineering

David Keith is a bit fidgety. Maybe that's because venture capitalists have asked to come see his carbon dioxide machine. Maybe it's because the project is running months behind schedule, as experiments so often do. Maybe it's because his critics say it'll never work.

Or maybe it's a taste of excitement, because it seems entirely possible that the trailer-truck-size machine that he's leaning up against is actually going to work.

"It's amazing to see all this talk and paper get turned into hardware," he says. "I really love it."

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Space
2:14 pm
Thu September 15, 2011

Here Come The Suns: New Planet Orbits Two Stars

NASA's Kepler mission has discovered a planet that circles two stars instead of one. The planet, shown as the black dot in this artist's illustration, is similar to Saturn, though it is more dense and travels in a 229-day circular orbit around its two stars.
R. Hurt NASA/JPL-Caltech

Originally published on Thu September 15, 2011 10:03 pm

A trillion is a huge number — when you're talking dollars or euros. But a trillion miles is not so much in the cosmic scheme of things. Astronomers say they've now found a planet that orbits two suns a mere thousand trillion miles from here. It's yet another example of a weird solar system being discovered around nearby stars.

Two years ago, NASA launched the Kepler observatory to look for Earth-like planets beyond our own solar system. It has found more than 1,000 apparent planets around distant suns.

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