There are so many science podcasts out there that choosing one can feel overwhelming. We’ve scoured the internet for classics and little-known gems covering a wide range of topics from space to food to cybercrime. Here are our top picks.
Should you switch to a gluten-free diet? Is artificial intelligence really out of control? This podcast digs into trends and hot topics in the news to expose the science behind them, separating fact from fiction. In a typical episode, science journalist Wendy Zukerman, the creator and host, talks to scientists and experts and cites research in the field in a style that is upbeat and engaging. The idea for the show came about in 2015 when actor Gwenyth Paltrow suggested that women should steam their vaginas for an energy boost, to rebalance hormones and keep clean. Zukerman felt compelled to bust the myth and has been fact-checking fads on her show ever since.
You’ve probably heard of RadioLab. Launched in 2002, the award-winning podcast, currently co-hosted by science journalists Lulu Miller and Latif Nasser, recounts a different science or technology-related story every week, often exploring different angles. The show incorporates interviews with experts and first-person accounts by guests into captivating narratives. Recent episodes have delved into a strange internet law that lets tech companies off the hook for what happens on their platforms, the cause of the mysterious Tunguska impact that hit Siberia in 1908 and whether disabled people could actually be the ideal astronauts. Highly recommended for curious people with diverse interests.
It might just be the best podcast name out there. With weekly episodes, the official podcast of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas features in-depth conversations with astronauts, scientists and engineers about the latest developments in human spaceflight. The show just celebrated its 300th episode with special guests talking about what the future holds for humans visiting low-Earth orbit, recorded in front of a live audience. Previously, the show has discussed NASA’s near-term goal to establish a sustainable human presence on the moon’s surface. It often focuses on different aspects of this plan, such as new lunar spacesuits and the first space station to orbit the moon being developed by NASA, called Gateway, which is aiming to support long-term human visits as well as deep space exploration. Each instalment is typically about an hour long, allowing for topics to be covered in detail.
Want to take a deep dive into a specific branch of science? The podcast’s name stems from the suffix ‘ology’ – the study of something – and consists of long chats between host Alie Ward and experts on diverse and often obscure disciplines, from sciuridology (the study of squirrels) to diabetology (the research and treatment of diabetes). Ward poses questions that bring out little-known aspects of each field while also touching on personal aspects, such as how guests chose their speciality, which often leads to interesting stories. The idea for the podcast was sparked by the word curiology – writing with pictures. Ward recently dedicated two episodes to this field by delving into emojis, from the origin of the smiley face to behind-the-scenes drama and stats on usage and trends. I give it a thumbs-up.
A generation of young people is now grappling with the climate crisis – often considered to be the most pressing problem humanity is currently facing. This podcast, which is in its third season, is produced by and for young people and aims to bring their stories to light. While early episodes focused on the experiences of young climate activists, the show is now broader in scope. In the latest episode, storyteller Reece Whatmore imagines a world in which buildings are conceived in collaboration with nature, rather than having human-made materials dominate city landscapes, and talks to biomaterial designers, scientists and engineers who are working to accomplish this goal. By being solution-focused, Inherited tackles a daunting topic in a hopeful way.
Food collides with science and history in this bi-weekly podcast co-hosted by journalist Cynthia Graber and author Nicola Twilley. In the most recent episode, the pair examines where fungi and bacteria in a sourdough starter come from by taking part in an experiment in Belgium with microbiologists and bakers. The show also delves into farming, for example by looking at how human faeces could save agriculture and the planet, and new developments, such as lab-grown meat, which made its debut in a US restaurant in July. The show often takes inspiration from listener requests and is sure to fascinate inquisitive food-lovers.
Efforts to undo human-induced damage to wildlife by allowing nature to take over again, called rewilding, have taken off in in recent years. In this podcast hosted by James Shooter, a photographer and filmmaker, listeners are taken behind the scenes of various rewilding initiatives across Europe as he travels to visit them during a year-long trip. Monthly episodes tell the stories of people trying to recover nature, for example experts in the Greater Côa Valley in Portugal, who are trying to improve the co-existence of animal species such as rabbits, Iberian wolves and dung beetles. The host’s passion for conservation makes the show both informative and engaging.
Through the ages, people have often tried to treat medical problems in odd, disgusting or simply ineffective ways. Hosts Sydnee and Justin McElroy, a doctor and comedian, respectively, were therefore inspired to create a podcast that uncovered some of these proposed treatments by digging through the annals of medical history. With new episodes out every Friday, the show also looks at the latest therapeutic fads, such as a pungent plant resin, called asafoetida, which some claim can has a range of medical benefits, and an egg-shaped sound-therapy chamber called a Harmonic Egg. The latest instalment examines the sudden recent uptick of cases of leprosy in Florida, looking at the history of the disease and current treatments. May not be suitable for squeamish people.
A true crime show for tech geeks. Hosted by Jack Rhysider, who was previously a network security engineer, the podcast showcases stories about the dark side of the internet told by hackers and those who have been hacked. In a recent episode, a member of the Dominican Republic’s cybersecurity incident response team explains the process he went through when he investigated a major cyberattack aimed at his country’s government. Another instalment follows a man who breaks into buildings for a living to test whether they are secure or not. The show is compelling and binge-worthy.
It is shameless self-promotion, but you may just enjoy our podcasts too. New Scientist Weekly, our flagship show hosted by Timothy Revell and Christie Taylor, takes a closer look at the most fascinating science news stories of the week. If you’re looking for something a bit more off-beat, Dead Planets Society explores crazy ideas such how we could punch a hole in a planet or whether we could destroy the sun – from a physics perspective, of course. And we’ve also got CultureLab, a podcast that could be interviewing the world’s most exciting authors about fascinating books one week and delving into the science behind a movie or TV show another. All available on the main New Scientist Podcasts feed.