Podcasts for Scientists
Written by: Sara Qian, Representative for Integrated Plant & Soil Sciences
Last Updated: 10/08/2020
"Everyone has an opinion, but then there’s science."
Australian science journalist Wendy Zukerman has created a show that tackles everything from pornography to the palaeo diet, and does it with flair. These 20-minute episodes take a recent fad or news-worthy topic and explain the actual science behind it (if there is any). The mix of expert interviews and interesting audio content make the show a great first podcast for those wanting to get started.
Skeptics Guide has been going since 2005, and has over 500 episodes, at 80 minutes each. Although that probably sounds a bit intimidating, if you have some time to burn, these guys are definitely worth listening to. Steve Novella is a neurologist at Yale University and hosts the show, along with a crew of four to six ‘skeptical rogues’ that join him every week to create interesting discussion about science news and critical thinking. The group has an avid community of fellow skeptics, who dispute pseudoscience and critically investigate the world around them.
We understand if 80-minute podcasts are not your thing, so what about 60-second ones? Scientific American does a short podcast every single day, with interesting topics and scientists coming in to discuss their topics of expertise. The best bit? It’s only a minute long.
Radiolab is awesome. Hosted by Jad Abumrad, but with a large number of staff, Radiolab is one of the best audio experiences in science podcasting. Abumrad and the team use sound, music, and expert interviews to weave an audio story in just 30 minutes. The blur between science, philosophy, and human experience is definitely worth a listen.
This one-hour radio show broadcast by the BBC is not only educational, but also very entertaining. Based out of Cambridge University in the UK, the show deals with science news, listener questions, and interesting interviews with scientists. The premise is science stripped down to its bare essentials, and it definitely delivers as an informative and funny science podcast.
Nature releases a podcast every week about new studies published in the journal, interviews with the scientists involved, and in-depth analysis. It’s traditional science communication done right. Hosted by Kerri Smith and Adam Levy, the 30-minute show is an interesting look into the world of top scientists and ground-breaking research.
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?!
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).
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.
If you’re reading this, you (probably) have a brain. Since we all have them, it makes sense to learn more about how they work. As far as we know, we’re the only organisms in the universe that are currently studying ourselves, and the study of the brain is at the center of it all. Dr. Ginger Campbell will teach you about the latest findings in neuroscience in a way that you can enjoy no matter what your background. You’ll also get to hear interviews with eminent neuroscientists from around the world.
If you want to learn crazy, mind-expanding facts about science, then you’ll love Discovery. It’s from the BBC, so you know it’s going to be well-produced and unbiased. Plus soothing British accents, if you’re into that. Past topics include the reason we dream, how to use chemistry to bake the perfect cake, and the discovery of plate tectonics.
Hacking isn’t the way it looks in movies and TV, but it’s still a very real practice that, in the wrong hands, can jeopardize personal safety and national security. Host Geoff Siskind, along with cybersecurity expert Bruce Snell, explores the real world of cybercrime with the aim of helping you protect yourself against hackers.
Odds are, many of you are too young to remember when Car Talk was actually on the air (or, at least, too young to find it relevant). While the original radio show ended in 2012, NPR has kept it alive in the form of the Car Talk podcast. This show features the best of host Tom and Ray’s humorous yet expert answers to listener car questions. Even if you don’t care about the technical details of fixing cars, the show is so amusing that you just might learn something in spite of yourself.
Staying updated on the latest tech news can be a challenge, since the sheer volume of new technologies is overwhelming. Download helps you cut through the noise, bringing you the most important stories and trends in technology. But you don’t just get the news — you also get analysis from a panel of tech experts. That way, you can decide if it really is worth it to buy the latest Apple Microwave or whatever.
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.
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?
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, in 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.
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).
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.