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The 21 best science podcasts if you’re keen to learn how things work


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The 21 best science podcasts if you’re keen to learn how things work

Sure, you can listen to podcasts on politics, true crime, or even just chats about everything in between. “And then,” as Science Vs host Wendy Zuckerman would say, “there’s science.” If you’re a curious person, keen to understand exactly how the world around, inside, and beyond us works, you should try a science podcast. Whether…

The 21 best science podcasts if you’re keen to learn how things work

Sure, you can listen to podcasts on politics, true crime, or even just chats about everything in between. “And then,” as Science Vs host Wendy Zuckerman would say, “there’s science.”

If you’re a curious person, keen to understand exactly how the world around, inside, and beyond us works, you should try a science podcast.

Whether you want the latest space news, expert commentary on what’s making headlines, a thorough debunk of scientific theories, want to know what it’s like to live on Mars, or just want to listen to something smart, these are the best science podcasts worth your time (presented in no particular order). 

1. Science Vs

If you’re hearing a lot of noise about something in your feed — whether it’s the effects of 5G, the war on plastic straws, or anti-vaxxers — and you’d like someone to clear up the facts for you with absolute glee, Science Vs is your jam. The podcast and its infectiously enthusiastic host/science journalist Wendy Zuckerman were snapped up by Gimlet Media from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2015, and it is hands down one of the best science podcasts in the game. They’ve done a heap of episodes about the coronavirus, debunking misinformation and fear-mongering rumours. There’s also a shorter version called Shots of Science Vs if you need just a tiny hit of science in your day.

Episodes to start with: The one on DNA kits, sharks, nuclear power, or heartbreak.

2. Radiolab

It’s not a best science podcast round-up without Radiolab, right? NPR’s Peabody-winning, textbook example of rich, expertly-produced documentary podcast-making was started by Jad Abumrad way back in 2002. Hosted by Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, Radiolab tasks itself broadly with “investigating a strange world.” It’s constantly referred to in the same breath as their friends at This American Life, but tends toward the more science-related topics. 

Episode to start with: The one on sleep, space, or shared immunity.

3. Invisibilia

An offshoot of Radiolab hosted by Alix Spiegel, Hanna Rosin, and Lulu Miller, NPR’s Invisibilia doesn’t cover hard science, but instead has a goal to investigate “unseeable forces [that] control human behavior and shape our ideas, beliefs, and assumptions.” The team expertly unpack dense behavioral and social scientific studies in a relatable way — through the stories of actual humans. More recently, they’ve looked at how technologists and biologists are tackling climate change using AI and machine learning to try to translate animal communications into human language. What?!

Episode to start with: The very first episode ever, or skip forward to their celebrated Batman episode.

We promise these aren't all NPR podcasts.

We promise these aren’t all NPR podcasts.

Image: bob al-greene / mashable

4. Ologies with Alie Ward

If you want to dig into the niches of study that professionals choose to dedicate their lives to, check out Ologies with science correspondent and humorist Alie Ward. Each episode, Ward takes on a different “ology,” from conventional ones like palaeontology and molecular neurobiology, to more niche ones like philematology (the study of kissing).

Episode to start with: The one on virology (the study of viruses), or the one when Ward even chatted to an electrochemist to unpack Potterology — a made-up word, but it’s a whole episode on wizard science.

5. The Infinite Monkey Cage

A long-running favourite for folks who love a panel-style podcast, The Infinite Monkey Cage is a BBC Radio 4 show presented by famed British physicist Brian Cox and comedian Robin Ince. First launched in 2009, the show sees each episode delve into a particular science-related topic, with Cox and Ince usually alongside two scientists and one famous comedian to balance it out — think Noel Fielding, Katy Brand, Stephen Fry, and Eric Idle (who also wrote the theme song). It’s really engaging and easy to follow, whether you want to get your head around quantum mechanics or how dreams work, or figure out how we measure the universe

Episode to start with: The one on dinosaurs, UFOs, or the origin of numbers. Or ditch them all and head to the one where they talked about space travel with, I don’t know, Sir Patrick Stewart.

WATCH: What I learned about isolation after 4 months on ‘Mars’

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6. The Habitat

What will a typical day on Mars look like? What does it take to set up a colony? How will people live in isolation, all up in each other’s faces for lengthy periods of time? Well, that last one we know a lot about now, but the others, we’ll need journalist Lynn Levy for. Gimlet Media’s podcast series The Habitat tracks six volunteer scientists who spent a year in an imitation Mars habitat on a mountain in Hawaii, as part if a project called the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS. The goal? Help NASA and the University of Hawaii understand how daily life on Mars will go, from crew tasks and responsibilities, to more fun stuff like games and romance. Levy was smart enough to send recording devices in with the crew when they sealed up the habitat — so we can have a peek too.

Episode to start with: The first one (it’s a narrative).

It's Mars! Or rather a geodesic dome located 8,200 feet above sea level on Mauna Loa on the island of Hawaii.

It’s Mars! Or rather a geodesic dome located 8,200 feet above sea level on Mauna Loa on the island of Hawaii.

Image: Uncredited / AP / Shutterstock

7. Science Friday

If you want a regular dose of science to end your week, WNYC’s Science Friday’s got you covered. Hosted by Ira Flatow, each episode is like a fact-check for your feed, asking questions of the biggest science stories going around that week through interviews with experts who call in. They’ve done a lot of coverage on the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s highly useful. On the other hand, Science Friday also digs into other stories to balance the episode out. If you like what you hear, the Science Friday crew have two other podcasts: Science Diction, which traces the stories behind words including quarantine and vaccine, and Undiscovered, about the mistakes and lucky breaks that have led to some of the biggest scientific breakthroughs.

Episode to start with: Whatever the most recent one is.

8. Are We There Yet?

If you want the latest space news combined with chats with astronauts, check out NPR’s Are We There Yet?, a great podcast that zooms in on our mission to explore the universe. Space journalist Brendan Byrne interviews astronauts and engineers, and raises questions you might not think about — for example, how do NASA’s team drive the Mars Rover while working from home during a pandemic? And what would happen if a cat walked across the keyboard? 

Episode to start with: Whatever the most recent one is.

9. Science(ish)

Will we ever be able to turn invisible like The Invisible Man? Can meditation change your brain to Doctor Strange levels? Could we create Frankenstein’s monster, or a whole island of dinosaurs like Jurassic Park? If you love popular culture (right here) and debating whether or not certain elements of films and movies are scientifically possible IRL, check out Science(ish). Hosted by New Scientist editor-at-large Dr. Michael Brooks and commentator Rick Edwards, Science(ish) is made for people who want to understand the science behind the fiction. And if you want more of that, check out Mashable’s Science of Sci-Fi series!

Episode to start with: The one on Alien or Jurassic Park.

Would it be possible to do the whole 'Jurassic Park' thing?

Would it be possible to do the whole ‘Jurassic Park’ thing?

Image: Amblin/Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock

10. Drilled

If you’re looking for hardcore, investigative journalism around climate change, dig into Drilled. Created in 2018 by journalist Amy Westervelt, the podcast investigates the propaganda campaign built around climate denial, including how it was created and meticulously rolled out. Westervelt had the idea to come at the story of climate denial within the style of true crime, dubbing it “the crime of the century.” Over two intense, fascinating, and alarming seasons, Drilled looks at the campaign to shift public opinion away from urgency, at the players whose climate research was foregone for enabling denial, the history of PR campaigns drummed up by fossil fuel companies, and those folks brave enough to stand up to oil companies and take them to court. More seasons are planned for 2020 and 2021.

Episode to start with: The very first one.

11. Gastropod

If you’re into food science, or just curious about the things you’re popping into your mouth every day, check out Gastropod. Highly engaging co-hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley dig into the history and science of different foods each episode, looking at how nosh is produced, farmed, and processed into what ends up on our plates. It’s incredibly well-produced, often features visits to related locations, and includes interviews with experts. Who knew you could learn so many interesting facts about mac and cheese?

Episode to start with: The one on mangoes, fries, or bagels.

12. Sawbones

If you’re looking for a podcast that digs into medicine, this is a good one. Hosted by married couple Dr. Sydnee McElroy and podcaster Justin McElroy, and distributed by Jesse Thorn’s Maximum Fun, Sawbones’ full title is A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine. Basically, each episode, the pair unpack the history of medical practices, diseases, viruses, and events which have resonance or lasting effects today. They’ve also done a lot of episodes about the coronavirus pandemic, which is inevitable when you’re a podcast about medicine. The banter is strong, the info is relevant and well-researched, and listening to the McElroys fan out hard over Dr. Anthony Fauci is just what the doctor ordered.

Episode to start with: The one on cough drops, ambulances, strokes, or the the scandal behind the most famous book of medical illustrations.

13. The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry

If you like your science podcasts with a slight Sherlock Holmes vibe, check out the BBC’s podcast, The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry. Everyday science mysteries are sent in by listeners, to be answered by the ever charming and engaging Drs Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford. What are wormholes and do they really exist? What is ASMR and why does it only affect some people? How do you discover a new chemical element? It’s easy to follow and the hosts are delightful. 

Episode to start with: The one about the end of the world, why not?

Drs Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford, we presume? Elementary!
Drs Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford, we presume? Elementary!

Image: bbc

14. Science Rules!

You know Bill Nye. Host of the popular PBS series Bill Nye the Science Guy, he’s been a go-to for science talk since the 1990s, and now he’s got his own podcast. The enthusiastically named Science Rules! sees Nye teaming up with science journalist Corey S. Powell to answer caller questions about what’s happening in our world and beyond. They’ve done a bunch of episodes on the coronavirus, as well as plenty on climate change, and space. Science does rule.

Episode to start with: The latest one on climate change, the Hubble Telescope, whether vitamins actually do anything, or the one on octopuses.

15. 60-Second Science

If you want a quick dose of science but don’t have the time or patience for a full podcast, try 60-Second Science. The bite-sized podcast of American science magazine Scientific American, the show sees leading science journalists unpacking some of the latest scientific developments. If you want more than the minuscule episodes, listen to Science Talk with articles editor and columnist Steve Mirsky — it’s the magazine’s great weekly podcast sitting at 15-30 minutes per ep, and along the same lines.

Episode to start with: Whatever the most recent one is.

16. Stuff You Should Know

While not strictly a science podcast, one of the cornerstones of the explainer podcast style, Stuff You Should Know delves into the science behind things with enough regularity to make this list. Hosted by the ever-delightful Josh Clark and Charles W. “Chuck” Bryant from HowStuffWorks, the podcast sees your pals Josh and Chuck pull apart one weird topic per episode with all the wide-eyed wonder and friendly enthusiasm of people who haven’t spent weeks painstakingly researching it until the wee hours (they have). 

Episode to start with: The one on how grass works, how the sun works, and one of my all-time favourites, how terraforming will work.

17. Hidden Brain

If you like Invisibilia, you’ll like Hidden Brain. NPR’s popular podcast hosted by social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam delves into the recesses of the human mind, and questions why the hell we do and think the things we do. Vedantam conducts excellent, well-researched interviews with experts on complex topics that are made simple to understand, and will have you really getting in your own head.

Episode to start with: The one on the 1918 flu and what it tells us about human nature, how our memories can betray us, or the one on lying.

18. Shirtloads of Science

If you’ve ever wanted to know the metrics of a perfect poop, step this way. Hosted by beloved Australian scientist/radio and TV presenter Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, Shirtloads of Science digs into a wide range of scientific topics in a conversational (let’s call it dad-like) way. Each episode sees Dr. Karl, as he’s known, just having a chat with leading experts about everything from space archaeology to your ultimate daily crap to exactly what’s going on with the Great Barrier Reef. Why “Shirtloads”? Dr. Karl is known in Australia for his highly extra patterned shirts. Yes, like Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus.

Episode to start with: The one on fire tornadoes, exercising after eating, and how Antarctica is melting due to global warming.

Overwhelmed by the headlines? Get the facts behind them.

Overwhelmed by the headlines? Get the facts behind them.

Image: vicky leta / mashable

19. The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe

Running since 2005, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe is a science podcast for those wanting to get to the truth of it all. Each episode sees host Steve Novella, clinical neurologist and Yale School of Medicine professor, joining his brothers Bob and Jay alongside panelists Cara Santa Maria and Evan Bernstein to critically analyse current news and developments in science, and debunk myths and conspiracies. It’s like a big, deep-dive, fact-checking session — don’t expect to gloss over anything in here.

Episode to start with: Whatever the most recent one is.

20. The Naked Scientists

If you want a science podcast presented by an actual scientist, who interviews actual scientists, this is your go-to. Started as a radio program by consultant virologist and Cambridge University lecturer Dr Chris Smith when he was a medical student in 2001, The Naked Scientists was picked up by the BBC in 2003. Now, it’s a weekly one-hour program aired by BBC 5 live — the 5 Live Science Podcast title is shared with Australia’s Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki — and is a truly informative science podcast, if not slightly dry. Each episode runs like a news program, checking in with scientific breakthroughs and interviewing the core scientists and researchers. 

If you like this, check out the BBC’s The Life Scientific too, which also features interviews with leading scientists.

Episode to start with: Whatever the most recent one is.

21. Houston, We Have a Podcast

You can’t get much more insider than the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. It sometimes feels slightly dry, but the interview access is pretty unparalleled — if you want to meet the people who make space food, this is for you. NASA actually has a lot of podcasts, with NASA’s Curious Universe, and Small Steps, Giant Leaps worth checking out too.

Episode to start with: The one on how to plan a spacewalk, the two-parter on the opening of the International Space Station, or the one on space food.

All done with science but still in the (twilight) zone? Chase it with some of these sci-fi podcasts

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