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Get ready to feast your ears and your brain…
Everyone enjoys the moments that make us stop, blink and say “wow, I had NO idea… ”, don’t we?
Whether you're commuting, in the bath or on a run, these 20 science, technology and nature podcasts are guaranteed to hit you with astonishing facts and attention grabbing storytelling.
First up – ours! The first ever podcast from BBC Earth, each episode takes you on a storytelling journey to the heart of our planet – in the same vein as our groundbreaking television series'. We take you along for the ride, whether it’s into the rainforest, spending eight days in total darkness in a cave in the Namibian desert or watching a newly hatched chick take a giant leap of faith. Presented in an immersive and atmospheric style, clever audio and an intimate recording style gives listeners the sense that they’re alongside the naturalists in the field.
The official podcast of the Nasa Johnson Space Center in Texas, Houston, We Have a Podcast brings space direct to your earholes from the home of human spaceflight. Hosted by Nasa’s Gary Jordan, this is a lively and upbeat look at incredibly complex topics; for example, how does communication work when you're in Deep Space? The majority of guests are Nasa’s scientists, who excel at translating what could be quite dry processes into human terms that make sense to every star struck listener.
Presenting the latest science news from the International Journal of Science, with topics as diverse as cultivating cannabis to how birds see colour. The podcast is presented by various journalists, some English, some American, most of whom are documentary makers who have a keen sense of the dramatic stories and how to bring them to life. This is a little like listening to a tutorial of a group of enthusiastic science students from around the world.
Each week, Jim Al-Khalili interviews the scientists who are shaping our future and explaining our present. Al-Khalili is “us” in the podcast, asking the questions we can’t. It’s not all heavy, focusing on the human as much as the facts; for instance, discovering that Supervet Noel Fitzpatrick wanted to become a vet after a lamb died on his watch as a child. Perfect listening for anyone who enjoys stories as much as science.
The ‘chirpy’ podcast from the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) will give you a new appreciation for our feathered friends, whether squabbling in your bird bath or flitting around the Sumatran rainforest. It’s also the most wonderful soundscape – lots of outside broadcasts with sea, woods and rivers in the background. The authoritative Jane Markham interviews fanatical ornithologists who provide fascinating facts with infectious enthusiasm… “Watching starlings is like watching a good movie; you don’t want it to stop.”
With the tag line 'investigating a strange world', Radiolab has been telling some of the most engrossing stories in science since 2002. Their unique and meticulous audio editing makes each episode a real joy to listen to whether they’re talking about genes, blood, football or poaching.
Where science meets comedy in the form of Professor Brian Cox and comedian Robin Ince. The Infinite Monkey Cage is informative and irreverent, boasting some impressive guest appearances from Patrick Stewart, Jo Brand and Eric Idle (who once sang the theme tune). Brian Blessed once recited the Masefield poem 'Lollingdon Downs' as a tribute to his friend, astronomer Patrick Moore. Ranging from high comedy to total nerdery, the podcast is a hugely informative chat show and a high point (literally) was the recording from Glastonbury in front of a somewhat tired and emotional audience.
Brisk, bright and fast, doctors Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry exploit their presenter-couple chemistry to tackle science questions in everyday life posed by listeners, such as why do we see faces in things and why do children dislike vegetables? Both presenters happily use themselves as guinea pigs (to test pain thresholds, in Rutherford’s case) and the result is a podcast full of “ah-HA, oh I SEE... ” moments. Ideal listening for inquisitive children and their nonplussed carers.
If you want a break down of the latest debates, fads and trends, Science Vs is the best place to start. Hosted by charming Australian Wendy Zukerman, each episode tackles the most controversial issues from climate change to gun control, fitness fads to abortion by looking at the science. Don’t let these facts or heavy topics fool you, this is one entertaining podcast.
Short, but sweet, these TED talks on technology from the world’s leading inventors, developers and researchers are gleaned from TED events around the world. Many of the talks focus on our relationship with AI combining personal experience and in-depth research. It’s jaw-dropping stuff that gives the impression you’ve had a guided tour into the future. Bring on the robots!
The hilarious Rick Edwards and Dr Michael Brooks, editor at large of the New Scientist, are your irrepressible hosts for the Scienceish podcast with the strapline 'the peculiar science behind the movies'. Like a casual conversation in the pub, but much better informed, the two hosts frequently collapse into giggles at the strange places their musings have taken them. Jurassic World – could it happen? Could we really train our brains like Marvel’s Dr Strange? Despite the frivolous approach, there’s solid science behind the humour and it’s genuinely fascinating.
Fancy a magazine-style show all about the latest tech and digital news? Then Click is the podcast for you. From the BBC World Service, Digital Planet brings you tech current affairs from around the world. Presented by tech writer Bill Thompson, Ghislaine Boddington (who specialises in digital immersion) and writer and presenter Gareth Mitchell, they bring a phenomenal breadth of knowledge and aren’t afraid to disagree on the ethical issues around tech developments.
Another one from the BBC World Service stable, Crowd Science is an entry level science podcast that takes listeners’ question to researchers operating on the frontiers of science and technology. The investigations go a level deeper than The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry (for example one Indian listener, who is blind, phoned in to ask about developments in bionic eyes and what could help him see again) and the podcast is presented by different researchers and journalists.
A total change of pace now. Tranquillity, history and culture, the National Trust podcast offers all of these along with a hefty dose of facts about the natural world. A wonderful bit of escapism, from a sojourn with the Konik ponies on Wicken Fen and the history of the colour purple to counting puffins on Farne Island. The podcasts are presented by either National Trust rangers or leading experts and vary from mini-episodes of around 10 minutes to longer versions. There are also walking podcasts, where you are accompanied by a National Trust ranger on a trail through a protected area. If the weather or work has trapped you inside, then these podcasts are truly a breath of fresh air.
As you might expect from the title, this is one rude, funny and heavily ironic podcast. The three women presenters aim to tackle the topics you don’t want to admit you know nothing about, (recent titles include 'Am I Too Poor for Art?' and 'Who Buys Flavoured Condoms?') and make you laugh while they do. Hannah Varrall, Alexandra Haddow and Caroline O’Donoghue discuss topics you rarely hear addressed publically ('Which was your best wee ever?'), but couple it with proper science.
The world’s biggest slug! The black tailed godwit! The West Runton mammoth! All the natural world is here, courtesy of the world-famous BBC Natural History Unit’s collection of its best content to produce a podcast full of surprising and wonderful pieces on the natural world. Presenters include veteran Lionel Kelleway, Howard Stableford and Brett Westwood with extracts from series like Bone Stories, Living World and Sound Stage.
If you self identify as an 'accelerated geek' then this weekly podcast, hosted by Christina Warren, Brianna Wu and Simone de Rochefort, is the one for you. The three hosts tackle everything from tech books, movies, games to recent news. All the big names in tech are here, from Microsoft and Apple to Tesla. The presenters are ferociously cool and despite the ‘accelerated geek’ tag they are all the kind of people you’d like to have fun with - and they take it as read that you’re as well-informed as cool and them. Book recommendations and tech gossip a-go go.
How is technology changing the way we work and live? This weekly podcast by the Wall Street Journal looks at the worlds of science and technology and predicts what the future may hold for us. Veteran reporter Jennifer Strong presents this US based podcast, interviewing leaders and luminaries on topics such as whether the future of diamonds is in mines or the lab and what the battlefield of the future might look like. Strong has a storytelling gift that combines current affairs with an international approach and personal insight.
If you want to know your carbonatites from your cenozoic vertebrates, then History of the Earth is here to help. This geology podcast concentrates the history of the Earth into one year, and you can work your way through the episodes from the origin of the Earth to the appearance of mankind. Accompanied by some very 70s electro music and your friendly local geologist Dick Gibson, this is (appropriately) hardcore geology. Not for your amateur, and definitely not a flashy entertainment podcast, but to anyone with a smattering of knowledge, fascinating.
Like your science stripped back? Then accompany Cambridge University’s multi award-winning Naked Scientists as they investigate topics like flu, the science of fighter aircraft and why we dance. This is a veteran podcast – one of the first to exist, and now one of the world’s most popular science podcasts, with over 50 million programme downloads in the last five years. The team comprises science students from various disciplines and as an added feel-good bonus to your listening, involvement in the Naked Scientists podcast acts as a training ground for communicators in science. Full of youthful energy, the Naked Scientists is the gold standard in science and podcasting.
If you listen to all of these, we think there’s a good chance you’ll astonish your friends, win every pub quiz and develop a new awe for the world around you. Educate your ears!
Featured image by BBC Earth | Getty