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.



Scientists have discovered features on Mars that could be signs of running water. If that's true, it would be big news for scientists looking for signs of life on Mars. After all, practically everywhere on Earth where there's running water, there's also life.

NPR's Richard Harris has the story.

RICHARD HARRIS: First off, we already know that Mars has water on it, lots of water. But Phil Christensen, a long-term Mars watcher from Arizona State University, says that knowledge isn't all that exciting to biologists.

Some nuclear industry officials say if Japan had U.S.-style training for its operators, they might have fared better during the multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. In Japan, workers train on generic simulators. Here, every nuclear power plant has an exact mockup of its control room so plant operators can practice more realistic disaster scenarios.

Take for example the Grand Gulf Nuclear Generating Station, south of Vicksburg, Miss., on the Mississippi River.

Japanese officials are still trying to understand all the factors that contributed to the meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

Officials already have concluded that the plant was not designed to withstand the 40-foot tsunami that hit it on March 11. But it is also likely that workers at the plant could have reduced the severity of the accident if they had made different decisions during the crisis.

The American public is less likely to believe in global warming than it was just five years ago. Yet, paradoxically, scientists are more confident than ever that climate change is real and caused largely by human activities.

Something a bit strange is happening with public opinion and climate change.

Japanese officials say conditions at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant have markedly improved since the March 11 disaster, but the plant still won't be completely stabilized until early next year. At a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Association in Vienna Monday, officials released two reports that detail what went wrong — and what went right — in the aftermath of the crisis.

Today, workers at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan tested out a system that will start cleaning up an enormous volume of radioactive water there.

The water has flooded many buildings at the complex, and it has seriously complicated efforts to bring the crisis there to an end. But it's also essential to keep the reactor cores from overheating.

The snowpack in the Rocky Mountains has been gradually thinning over much of the past century, and a new study attributes much of that to global warming.

This year is a notable exception — unusually heavy snowfall throughout the Rockies this winter has caused a lot of flooding and water-management headaches downstream. But taking the long view, the trend is toward less and less snow.

The bacterium that is causing all the trouble in Europe is similar to the dreaded E. coli that has caused occasional but deadly outbreaks in the United States and elsewhere in the world. But the strain that has struck Germany is not so well known to science.

That leaves researchers puzzling over exactly why it's causing so many deaths, and wondering how long the epidemic will last.

At least medical scientists know quite a bit about its method of attack.