Combining the real-time enjoyment of radio with the in-depth research, production value, and episodic “what happens next?” suspense and thrills of a TV show, podcasts have exploded in popularity in recent years. The best podcasts are especially well-suited for educational purposes, as their easygoing, convivial format is highly accessible for all kinds of listeners, making them an excellent tool for learning about the world of science.
Whether you’re interested in the cosmos, physics, medicine, or climate change, there’s a science podcast out there for all those and beyond, ranging from in-depth, immersive series that focus on singular issues, to humorous, fun series where you can learn a bit about a lot of different things. Ranging from the skies to our own bodies, these are the best science podcasts you can start listening to.
Astrophysicist, author, and director of the Hayden Planetarium Neil deGrasse Tyson has found a massive audience in recent years with his affable, friendly way of making complex astronomical concepts seem so down to earth (and has found perhaps as many detractors for various allegations involving him). In StarTalk Radio, that mission of his continues with the help of a litany of celebrity and comic guests, and scientific experts, who talk shop about the cosmos with a dash of humor and pop culture. Exploring everything from life on Mars to the multiverse theory, the show is now in its tenth season with over 430 episodes and still going strong. So next time you want to contemplate the ways of the universe while driving to work, give it a listen.
Produced by WNYC and running since 2002, this Peabody Award-winning series is an essential of the science podcast canon. Hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, each hour-long episode explores different scientific topics, like gene-editing and the nature of addiction. Experts are frequently brought in and interviewed, and the duo’s on-air banter and insightful observations make for compelling and easy listening. In recent years, they’ve also expanded to explore other topics such as philosophy, politics, and global issues, but science remains their mainstay.
Vying for the prize of best podcast name ever, Houston We Have A Podcast is the official podcast of NASA. If you wanted to be an astronaut as a kid (and still kind of do) and love hearing about topics like how to train to be an astronaut, how they design space suits, and how they crash-test space modules, then this is nothing short of a must-hear, as they cover all these topics and much more in great detail and with a sense of humor. Hosted by Gary Jordan, the show also frequently features official NASA scientists as guests, so you’re getting the inside scoop straight from the source.
Science is all about the -ologies: psychology, geology, biology. And in each episode of this informative comedy podcast, host Alie Ward interviews a different expert in a different “ology,” learning all about their area of specialization and teasing out crazy stories and wow-worthy epiphanies that reveal even the most obscure area of science to be utterly fascinating. Recent episodes include a deep dive into the fields of scatology (the study of poop) and cryo-seismology (the study of icequakes), so prepare to learn about something you probably never thought about or considered before!
Gimlet Media is one of the stars of the podcast world, with an extensive, diverse, and award-winning roster of shows, and Science Vs is one of the jewels in their crown. With the aid of a coterie of fact-checkers and scientists, different episodes hold opinions and beliefs up to the microscope of science and reveal them for what they truly are: real or not. Specializing in current trends and fads, the show goes hand-in-hand with pop culture and the zeitgeist, answering questions like whether or not those celebrity weight-loss teas actually work, whether vaping is good or bad, and much more. If you’re someone who’s always up to date on the latest trends and news of the day (or if you’re a contrarian who likes proving their friends wrong about popular beliefs), be sure to listen in.
While many science podcasts take on concrete topics like medical science or biology, National Public Radio’s Invisibilia (named after the Latin word for “all the invisible things”) explores more abstract themes like ideas, emotions, assumptions, and beliefs. Viewing these topics through the lens of science, co-hosts Alix Spiegel and Hanna Rosin explore such intangible and undefined phenomena and concepts as the nature of truth, fear, and uncertainty, all with the help of expert guests. Many episodes focus on specific stories or incidents that center around the theme in question, adding an element of narration and plot. Deeply engrossing, it’ll make you look at the world and yourself in a different way.
Produced as a radio talk show in its native England and distributed internationally as a podcast, The Naked Scientists is an hour-long BBC show that covers a variety of different newsy, scientific topics each week, hosted by a lineup of scientists from different fields of study. Weekly guests from relevant areas of expertise also weigh in on the issues. Since it’s recorded as a radio show and not produced in a studio solely as a podcast, there’s an element of audience participation, with the live studio audience being able to ask questions that are answered live on air. Presented with classic British wit, it’s a fun and informative way to learn about the scientific issues of the day.
Love food with a passion? Want to know more about the science behind it? Then Gastropod is the science podcast for you. Looking at food “through the lens of science and history,” this independent podcast, hosted by Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley, travels all over to find its stories, visiting farms, labs, and other locations to chat with experts about topics that run the gamut from how CRISPR (the revolutionary and controversial gene-editing method) could change and affect our food to farming in space and on other planets. Some episodes (which come out every two weeks) are more history-based while others are more scientific, but each highlights an issue or theme related to food science and history that you probably had never heard of before (and you’ll walk away with some great facts to tell at dinner parties).
For serious science enthusiasts, Nature is a must-listen, as it sources its stories from the International Journal of Science. As such, its topics vary widely, ranging from newsy items (such as, at the moment, coronavirus coverage) to more in-depth profiles or scientific news that may not have made the headlines, and is also presented by a wide range of journalists and presenters. Billed as the “latest from the world of science,” their work is always up to date and deeply engaging.
A fusion of science and storytelling, The Story Collider is about the stories and tales that are created in the pursuit of science. While it’s often the results and conclusions of scientific studies that grab the headlines, there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes, and on this show, scientists and researchers share their personal stories about how science has shaped and affected their lives. Some episodes focus on general themes like how astronomy has inspired scientists, while others are about specific instances, like the time a journalist “got cursed by a witch doctor for science” or explosions in chem labs. This show is all about the human side of science and is great if you’re looking for a more narrative, storytelling type of podcast.
This weekly 80-minute-long podcast, hosted by American neurologist and assistant professor at Yale’s School of Medicine Dr. Stephen Novella, takes every topic or scientific trend of the moment with a grain of salt; a skeptic’s eye, if you will. The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe focuses on “promoting critical thinking and science literacy” by taking a hard look at subjects like “of the moment” theories and trends related to science, conspiracy theories, and other topics to verify their authenticity, often with expert guests that offer their own two cents. And yes, its name is meant to bring The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to mind, so if that’s your type of humor and you love scientists giving no-holds-barred commentary on bad science, this is a great listen.
What happens when an English physicist and an English comedian get together to talk science? The Infinite Monkey Cage is what happens. This popular, decade-old podcast series, produced by BBC 4, tackles a different scientific issue every show with its trademark witty humor, with the two hosts joined by a panel of three guests. Two of the guests are usually scientists who are experts in the field being discussed, with a comedian as the third guest, so there’s a great mix of education and fun to go around. Perfects for fans of British humor and irreverent comedy.
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