The Best Science Podcasts - 2017
"If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't really understand it."
This quote has been attributed to many scientists including Richard Feynman and Albert Einstein, but even if apocryphal the point rings true: Science can and should be accessible to everybody.
Over the past ten years, many scientists and reporters have used podcasts to make scientific discoveries more accessible. These talented hosts have varied backgrounds, cover a range of topics, and attempt this noble feat in many different ways; some use interviews, while others focus on storytelling and humor, but they all help keep their listeners informed of what is happening in the scientific world today.
And now, in our opinion, the 10 best science podcasts in 2017...
WNYC Studios - Grab it in iTunes
A self proclaimed podcast about not science but curiosity, RadioLab investigates where the human experience meets science and philosophy. The layout of the show is phenomenal, using sound to engage the listener and guide them through scientific explanation into real learning and understanding. Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich are awed by science, but are always questioning. They are in their 13th season, and RadioLab has won two Peabody awards. The hosts do an astonishing job at drawing the listeners in and expanding their minds.
Where to start: Update: CRISPR - RadioLab revisits an increadble story on the DNA-editing-tool that has been billed as one of the most powerful, and potentially controversial, technologies ever...
2. Science Friday
National Public Radio - Grab it in iTunes
Host Ira Flatow leads this weekly review of science and technology. Interviewing the great scientists and innovators of our generation, Science Friday is able to give an unbiased, scientific approach to a myriad of topics. Without ‘dumbing down’ the science, it is accessible to everyone by the knowledge of the guests and the host. The show provides a well rounded education on the weekly topics.
Where to start: Special Coverage: How will scientific research fare under President Donald Trump? - Looking to the new administration for hints at how they will treat scientists through nominations and policy promises.
3. Nature Weekly
Nature Publishing Group - Grab it in iTunes
Nature is well known as a scientific journal, and their weekly podcast covers that week’s edition of Nature. Hosted by Kerri Smith and Adam Levy, the show searches deeper into the background of current science breakthroughs. They don’t stop at their analysis, they interview the scientists who produced the results and gain their opinion and expertise in the papers. The 30 minute episodes cover what’s new in science, and gives historical insights as well. The articles themselves are only available to subscribers to the journal, however they do an excellent job of summarizing and educating.
Where to start: 16 February 2017 - An awesome episode that covers a new and exciting material that behaves in a way unlike others, brings new insights into the walls of our cells, among other weekly topics.
4. Science Vs.
Gimlet Media - Grab it in iTunes
Social media seems filled with articles claiming many things about science. From diets to drugs to the environment, it often can be hard to sift for gold in these articles. Science vs. covers one current topic per 40 minute show pitting the facts against the narrative. Hosted by journalist Wendy Zukerman, the stories are engaging and well told with humor to spice up dry topics. The show can be biased in the analysis, but the facts are presented well, and Wendy does an excellent job of increasing awareness and general knowledge of current topics.
Where to start: Science vs. Fracking - An engaging look into the impacts of fracking through personal stories and discussion with professors on the topic.
5. The Titanium Physicist
Brachiolope Media Network - Grab it in iTunes
Dr. Ben Tippet (from Science…sort of) brings together two physicists or astronomers to discuss a range of physical phenomena. These scientists have been chosen for their ability to explain advanced topics in relatable ways and are deemed “titanium physicists.” The lively discussion that ensues is not only entertaining and engaging but also immensely researched and provides background information so that even the layman can understand the facts. It does this while still managing to give new insight into topics for veterans to the topic. It educates in a succinct and clear way, leaving the listener better informed after each episode.
Where to start: Life on Mars - An overview on finding life on Mars and the obstacles that scientists face in their pursuit to discover it.
6. Living Planet
Deutsche Welle - Grab it in iTunes
This podcast covers a range of environmental topics from around the world. They covers climate summits to students in Senegal trying to reduce waste. Irene Quaile and Charlotta Lomas provide an international view of the state of the world and our environment. They bring an unbiased and objective reporting on the impact humankind has on the world. The 30 minute episodes are story based and are informative about the cultural climate in addition to the global one.
Where to start: The sound of science - A fun revisiting of previous musical stories, how scientists turn data into musical compositions, and nature of bird calls.
7. In Our Time: Science
BBC Radio 4 - Grab it in iTunes
Melvyn Bragg hosts the informative scientific branch of In Our Time BBC radio’s take on the history of ideas. While not always a current topic, In Our Time: Science studies the key principles, theories, and scientists (and philosophers) who have shaped science in our time. Covering in depth profiles of scientists, from Robert Hooke to Marie Curie, and popular topics like Dark Matter, each 45 minute episode gives the listener a great primer on the subject. Extremely well researched and hosted, Melvyn doesn’t disappoint in his coverage of scientific topics.
Where to start: Dark Matter - Starting from the beginning Melvin and his guests examine everything we know about dark matter, from its origins to current theories on what scientists think it might be.
8. Big Picture Science
SETI Institute - Grab it in iTunes
Seth Shostak and Molly Bentley are committed to provide thorough scientific education while keeping the mood upbeat and full of humor—albeit a little dry humor. A product of the SETI institute founded by Carl Sagan and Jill Tarter their show covers more than just the origin of our universe. Molly and Seth play off each other extremely well as they delve into topics of science and discovery. A bonus is their monthly Skeptics Check that pits well known fables again scientific fact. Originally produced under the name ‘Are we Alone?’ Big Picture Science continues the legacy of sharing the wonders of science with the public.
Where to start: DIY Spaceflight - Insight into commercial space travel and ways to get involved with space through CubeSat projects, and the impact women had on spaceflight.
9. Quirks & Quarks
CBC Radio - Grab it in iTunes
A podcast that truly encompasses all science from the tiny quarks to large scale issues of the universe. Bob McDonald makes his show unique by examining not only the history and context of new scientific and technological advances but also weighing the political and social implications. Through the show he explains the how and why of the topics, making his show relatable with or without a PhD in physics. It is a Canadian broadcast, and Bob likes to keep the mood enjoyable for all. His questions promote an intelligent dialogue and listeners leave feeling enlightened and refreshed.
Where to start: Twin Studies on Earth and Space a window into Nature vs. Nurture - This episode covers the story of Scott and Mark Kelly and the fascinating insights it gives into how space affects our bodies, as well as metallic hydrogen, and whether torture is effective.
Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley - Grab it in iTunes
Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley cohost the food inspired science podcast. It gives the scientific and historical background of various topics dealing with food and farming. Interviewing experts in various fields while also visiting archeological digs and labs, Gastropod dives in the full spectrum of where food fads come from and whether they really are healthier for you. These 45 minute episodes weave together stories of seltzer water, or the honey situation. A truly fresh and fun podcast about all things food.
Where to start: Gettin’ Fizzy With It - Looking at the American obsession with seltzer water, Cynthia and Nicola explore the origins and health effects of sparkling water.
Through these shows you will come to find that this world is deeply intricate, and our universe is so vast and large that it humbles our existence. Incorporating any of these podcasts into your weekly routine will enlighten your existence with renewed insight in the world we share. With the varied perspectives these podcasts will give you a new mindset when it comes to discerning fact from fiction, and a deeper understanding of our daily interactions.
Hopefully you will feel the child-like spark of curiosity and continue to learn. Carl Sagan, a true believer in the idea that our universe should be understood by those who experience it, notably said that "somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known" and with your new knowledge you can experience that for yourself.