11 Science Podcasts to Boost your Science Knowledge

23rd July 2014

Science

science podcasts

I’ve done some digging around the web to find a selection of the best science podcasts to suit practically every taste.

The result is this compilation of podcasts that may (or may not) enhance your science knowledge. Some of these science podcasts are funny, some are serious, some are educational, whilst others offer some light relief from hard-core science.

The science podcasts listed have a variety of lengths, topics and credible sources and depending on whether you want the facts or the fun, there is a podcast for every taste and ability here.

The summaries provided should give you a clue about which science podcast is for you, and I have embedded the audio for podcasts that give permission. 

1. Science Weekly

Science Weekly is a podcast that has been set up by The Guardian. Each podcast lasts around 40-45 minutes and it is updated fairly regularly; you can expect a new podcast to be uploaded roughly once per week.

Science Weekly is run by a number of regular hosts. Each podcast features a number of different credible speakers, such as doctors or experts in the science industry. Some in-depth interviews with guests are embedded within the podcasts, so it’s likely you’ll learn something new when the speakers get down to the nitty-gritty details of each topic.

Regular guests include Dr Emily Grossman, Helen Arney and Jim Al-Khalili.

Science Weekly can be listened to and downloaded via iTunes or SoundCloud; ideal if you want to listen and learn on the go.

  • Useful if…
    You have around an hour a week to spare (or long train journeys to kill) and would like detailed updates about science, including consistent input from professionals.
  • Not so useful if…
    You just want to scratch the surface of science stories, and are inclined towards topics of general interest. The more deeply scientific topics of DNA and fossil fuels from Science Weekly may not appeal to you.

2. I F***ing Love Science

I F***ing Love Science (or IFLS) is hosted by Elise Andrew, whom also happens to be the founder of the expletive-loving science blog.

A newcomer that attracted fans rapidly, IFLS was created in 2012 when Elise decided to create a page to post the content she had previously been posting on her profile page. The page attracted 1000 followers in the first day.

This science podcast stands out from the rest as it encompasses video and audio. The video features Elise discussing her favourite IFLS posts from the past week, accompanied by images and videos to provide further reference points.

Each podcast is around 3-4 minutes long and features roughly 5-10 news stories.

Recent stories that may catch your eye include “The Chicken from Hell”, news about the female insect with a penis, and some fascinating video reconstructions of Neanderthals.

  • Useful if…
    You want a quick-fire round-up of the latest science stories, that only focuses on the most exciting or unconventional news.
  • Not so useful if…
    You’re looking for a podcast that is religiously uploaded on a regular basis. There was only one IFLS podcast uploaded for the whole of April, and one for May.

3. Royal Society of Chemistry

Here you will find a rather unusual format for a science podcast; a podcast of the periodic table, created by Chemistry World. (Chemistry World actually has its own, more traditional style of podcast, of which you can find info at number 5.)

This podcast is presented as an image of the periodic table, and is great for learning about each element.

It is interactive and visual. Each element is in its place on the periodic table and can be clicked on for information about its history and features. Each element is explained in around 6-9 minutes.

  • Useful if…
    You want to specifically learn about chemical elements in a detail and well-explained manner, particularly for educational purposes.
  • Not so useful if…
    You want to know about other aspects of science, and don’t have the time to spend up to 10 minutes learning about each individual element in so much detail.

4. Professor Blastoff

Professor Blastoff is a podcast that explores the funnier side of science. It is hosted by comedians Tig Notaro, Kyle Dunnigan and David Huntsberger.

Each podcast is around one hour long, but begins with a one-minute unnecessary musical introduction.

The musical intro, along with the phatic discussion at the beginning means it takes some time to delve into the scientific chit-chat.

However, once you overlook this, you’ll find you’re listening to a deeply entertaining podcast which sounds like a group of friends talking about science stories they’ve heard and sharing their opinions on scientific matters. The podcast discusses scientific studies and the discourse rides on the speakers sharing their own personal, humorous accounts.

Speakers include a mixture of scientists and comedians. Famous guests have included Sarah Silverman and Josh Radnor.

Each podcast is based around a theme. Many episodes include more controversial topics such as ‘Sexual Attraction’ and ‘Religious Science’, which are great for evoking discussion.

  • Useful if…
    You have some time to relax, laugh and listen in on a laid-back conversation with some science facts scattered throughout. Personally, it took me a couple of minutes to get into, but then I struggled to turn it off.
  • Not so useful if…
    You want to listen to a fully academic account and gain a wealth of scientific knowledge.

5. Chemistry World

The Chemistry World science podcast has its home on the Royal Society of Chemistry’s website. Each episode lasts around half an hour and you can count on the podcast being uploaded monthly – Chemistry World hasn’t missed a month since it began in October 2006.

It is hosted by Chris Smith, who regularly hosts other science podcasts including The Naked Scientists. The host’s chatter is intertwined with multiple other voices from the science industry, providing a professional viewpoint.

You will find science updates and new findings from the latest month.

Each podcast comes with a transcript of the main points with the time they appear in the audio, so you can easily skip to the part you’re most interested in. There are also links to further articles in case you’d like to explore a point in more detail.

  • Useful if…
    Your scientific interest focuses on Chemistry and you already have a good level of knowledge of the subject, as this podcast doesn’t cover the basics.
  • Not so useful if…
    You’re the type of person that hates waiting a week for the next instalment of your favourite TV show, as you will need to wait a month to listen to each Chemistry World podcast.

6. Science Mag

From the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Science Mag is one of the original podcasters and has been creating podcasts since 2005.

There is text around each episode to provide more data. This includes one or two bullet points to summarise what you can expect from that particular episode, a summary paragraph and a link to see the full text from the episode. However, you need to sign up as a member to see the full text version.

Each episode contains a speaker called David Grimm, who provides a round-up of news stories. They also include opinions and further information from scientists for credibility.

Science Mag podcasts are around the 20-minute mark. This has been reduced from 30-40 minutes in 2006 – it’s clear that Science Mag understands the importance of being snappy and concise, as most users are too busy to spend a long time listening to a podcast.

Recent topics of interest include the possibility of a resurgence of using psychedelic drugs to treat depression, and how moths track scents on the wind.

  • Useful if…
    You’d like a reliable and well-established source of science news, presented in 20-minute bites.
  • Not so useful if…
    You want unlimited access to all of the resources without becoming a member of AAAS.
Comedian Ricky Gervais hosts a number of science podcasts under the title 'The Ricky Gervais Guide to...'

Comedian Ricky Gervais hosts a number of science podcasts under the title ‘The Ricky Gervais Guide to…’

7. Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais is an actor, comedian, voice actor and writer. He’s widely known for his interest in science and regularly expresses his strong opinion on the Religion v Science debate.

Gervais has dedicated a successful stand-up show to science, and has created some podcasts about matters including scientific topics, where he’s joined by Karl Pilkington and Steve Merchant.

Podcasts include guides to medicine, the human body, the earth and other topics of general interest. They focus around the task of explaining scientific concepts to Karl and hearing his viewpoint, which is often humorous and unconventional.

This science podcast isn’t based around credible scientific sources. Gervais may be knowledgeable about some aspects of science, but he doesn’t cite his source and he isn’t a scientist himself. Podcasts don’t include a huge amount of information, but generally include the odd strange fact that listeners may find entertaining.

The discourse often steers into a conversation about the speakers’ personal lives, instead of reporting on science.

This podcast isn’t updated regularly. It is comprised of a series of 10 episodes called ‘The Ricky Gervais Guide to…’ where each episode lasts up to an hour. You can only listen to a sample for free (which is about 5 minutes), but can buy the full episode via Audiobooks.

  • Useful if…
    You’re looking for a laid-back, leisurely activity that will provide a few chuckles, and aren’t opposed to swearing.
  • Not so useful if…
    You’re researching for a science paper and require academic sources and scientific facts. On his guide to the human body, Gervais himself states that the information shouldn’t be used as part of a thesis.

8. 60 Second Science

The 60 Second Science podcast is part of Scientific American. Not every episode is actually 60 seconds – some can be upwards of a minute and a half.

The podcast aims to post daily, which is usually – but not always – the case. As time is limited, each episode tends to report on a single study or finding in the science industry.

The podcast doesn’t feature guests or delve deep into topics as there’s not enough time, but the enthusiastic speaker covers the necessary basis. Most podcasts are accompanied by a transcript.

Recent topics include the possibility of cooling organs so there’s more time for medical transplants, and the finding that our ancestors probably ate vegetables as well as meat.

  • Useful if…
    You have a spare minute or two and are twiddling your thumbs, ready to ingest some small nuggets of science.
  • Not so useful if…
    You’re looking for a thorough explanation of the latest news. If you already know the basics of a recent science story, this podcast won’t tell you much more.

9. Radiolab

Consisting of roughly hour-long episodes, Radiolab is recorded in seasons, rather than on a regular basis. The downside here is that you would have to wait for the instalment of each new season, but there may be quite a backlog to keep you busy for now –Radiolab is currently in its 12th season and each season consists of 10 episodes.

The primary host is Jad Abumrad, a radio host and producer. Jad’s father is a doctor and scientist, but it’s possible that Jad doesn’t have any of his own scientific experience.

The podcast is recorded from a live stage performance and includes guests, which are generally musicians and comedians. It is easy to become absorbed in the atmosphere of the live performance – speakers explain stories to explain historical science and you can clearly hear the audience laughing, whistling and being involved in the show.

The episodes are intentionally dramatic and exciting, set off by sound effects and background music to set the scene.

Hosts of Radiolab discuss unusual topics with intriguing titles such as ‘When Brains Attack’, ‘Talking to Machines’ and ‘Oops’. There is already an extensive archive of topics to choose from to expand your science knowledge.

  • Useful if…
    You want a detailed science podcast with added cinematic value, made more dramatic with music and entertaining stories to set the scene.
  • Not so useful if…
    You’re looking for simple facts that go straight to-the-point, and would prefer the voices of scientists for some added credibility.

10. Story Collider

This science podcast strays away quite excessively from the norm. Story Collider invites submissions for personal stories relating to science from scientists, artists, those studying science, or people that have gone through a disease.

Story Collider encourages people to share their own stories about the ways in which science has affected their lives. Anyone can submit a story and in short, it explores the emotional part of science.

This podcast is based around personal interest and experiences rather than being educational. Episodes are uploaded weekly and usually last around 10-30 minutes.

There are submissions from big figures in science such as Carl Zimmer, a science writer that talks about monster movies and strange animals in his neighbourhood in his submission for Story Collider.

Another interesting submission is by Moran Cerf, a neuroscientist who talks about one of his patients “SM”, who has a condition that stops you feeling fear.

Story Collider is made even more personal as you can hear the audience laughing and enjoying the stories.

  • Useful if…
    You want stories from real-life people to demonstrate how science affects us all in some ways.
  • Not so useful if…
    You’d like hard facts about new science discoveries or studies and need to cite scientific sources.

11. Science Friday

You can probably guess which day of the week this podcast is uploaded on.

Science Friday usually rewards its listeners with more than one upload per Friday and it includes interviews with professionals and market-leaders from whichever industry is being discussed, as well as the odd appearance from doctors and scientists.

The podcast focuses around current areas of interest. For example, in the hot month of June, an episode called ‘Shedding Light on the Science of Sunscreen’ was uploaded. Each upload is accompanied with written information about the nature of the audio, featured guests, and related links so you can research further information on the topic at your leisure.

Recent uploads of interest include the debate over the predictability of random choice, and how science can help you brew the perfect beer.

A downside to this podcast is that Science Friday uploads the title and some information about each episode, before the audio is actually uploaded. This can be annoying as it may lead you to click on links to media that isn’t there yet.

  • Useful if…
    Friday is your favourite day to catch up on some science and you want to regularly receive some solid facts.
  • Not so useful if…
    You prefer a podcast to incorporate the odd joke to make learning fun. This podcast gets the information out, but not in a very entertaining format.

Hopefully now you have a better idea of which science podcast should became your regular listening material.

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