Written by Petrina Duncan
If you enjoy listening to stories and are naturally curious, podcasts are a way in which you could learn more about almost any topic you can think of. There are lots of benefits of listening to podcasts: you can do other tasks such as exercising at the same time, a wide range of global topics are covered, you will hear a range of communication methods, and you can visualise as you listen which engages multiple parts of your brain. Learn about other benefits here.
The diversity of podcasts is huge, so here is a list of some science-based podcasts accessible online which you can browse through to find topics you are interested in or curious about. Enjoy the show!
New Zealand Podcast Series:
- Our Changing World This excellent science and natural history series has been running for many years on Radio New Zealand (RNZ). The weekly show is currently hosted by the very talented Alison Ballance, a zoologist, wildlife filmmaker, writer and radio producer. Alison often goes on location for her stories to labs and field sites in remote and rugged places, eg. Antarctica, Codfish Island and the Chatham Islands. Highly recommended. Also worth listening to is Alison’s four-part series called Voice of the Iceberg set in Antarctica.
- Critter of the Week Presented by Jesse Mulligan (RNZ) and Nicola Toki (Department of Conservation’s Threatened Species Ambassador), this weekly session combines a friendly chat with a scientific description of uncharismatic but loveable, lesser known species in NZ. For example, learn about the NZ antlion, Bryde’s whales, basking sharks, or Smeagol the gravel maggot. Who knew there was a maggot named after Smeagol?
- Science Express Presented by Te Papa museum in Wellington (see their blog), these podcasts are recordings of live interviews with experts, recorded in front of an audience. Learn about diverse topics such as the psychology of criminals, fossil hunting for dinosaurs and drilling into the Alpine Fault. Not a weekly series.
- Scigest Described as ‘podcast-sized servings of digestible science from the world of Plant and Food research’, this has something for everyone. Within their numerous podcast episodes, learn about topics such as the future of food, the personality of a snapper, stink bugs and the career path to becoming a scientist. A must for future scientists, especially those interested in plants, food, horticulture, biosecurity or genetics.
- Stupid questions for scientists Although not strictly a NZ podcast, the presenter is an award winning science communicator, Dr Michelle Dickinson, better known as Nano Girl, who now teaches at the University of Auckland. Described as “a brilliantly entertaining, while delightfully educating podcast which brings together top comedians and scientists. Topics include animal intelligence, medicinal majijuana and the science of attraction. Riveting stuff!
Australian Podcast Series:
- The Science Show A weekly radio series produced by the ABC in Australia. The Science Show provides unique insights into the latest scientific research and debate, from the physics of cricket to prime ministerial biorhythms. Hear about the future of space research, how young people view science, life at extreme ocean depths and amazing stories about blood.
- Great Moments in Science Another ABC Australia production, host Dr Karl Kruszelnicki reveals ‘groundbreaking and life-saving’ science stories, as well as a few ‘wacky and implausible’ ones. Be absorbed by topics such as why humans are no longer cannibals, why 5G won’t kill you and the intelligence of spiders.
- Science Friction Described by the ABC as ‘science, culture and everything in between’ this series focuses on topics which might be slightly contentious, edgy or controversial. Hosted by award-winning science presenter/journalist Natasha Mitchell. Check out their recent podcast on bats, pandemics and China’s wildlife markets with relation to the COVID-19 virus. Great interviews with relevant experts.
British Podcast Series:
- 5 Live Science Podcast Join Dr Chris Smith and the ‘Naked Scientists’ for a weekly update of science news stories and analysis from the BBC radio. Their topics are diverse, their humour is entertaining, and they even answer questions from the public about science topics. Episode examples: beached whales, bright Neanderthals, the Coronavirus, veganism, gene editing. Great listening.
- Costing the Earth An excellent BBC radio series which covers a wide range of global environmental and conservation topics. They often go on location and interview lots of different experts. Episode examples include: eco anxiety, how young people are taking on climate change issues, and ending the age of plastics. Subscribe and upskill.
- Discovery Explorations into the world of science from BBC radio. The presenters often interview leading scientists who have made significant discoveries in their field of research. Episode examples include gene research, stem cells, COVID-19, locust plagues and micro-plastics in the ocean.
- CrowdScience The BBC take ‘questions from the public about life, Earth and the universe to researchers hunting for answers at the frontiers of knowledge.’ Updated weekly, you can hear answers to questions like: Can science explain why I love shopping? Why are we obsessed with crime? Would humans still exist if dinosaurs were alive? Fascinating stuff.
- BBC Inside Science Dr Adam Rutherford and guests illuminate the mysteries and challenge the controversies behind the science that’s changing our world. Of particular interest to NZ biology students will be their podcasts about human evolution, eg. The hidden history in our DNA – Part 1 – Sex and Disease and The hidden history in our DNA – Part 2 – Travel and Culture.
American Podcast Series:
- Sciencemag A weekly science podcast show, produced by the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science). Two or three topics are discussed each week, including interviews with expert scientists. They currently have a strong focus on COVID-19 related stories (like most science podcasts!). Other topics include: visiting a near-Earth asteroid, why adults are always badmouthing the next generation, and the limits on human endurance. Something for everyone.
- Overheard at National Geographic Each week, the presenters ‘dive into one of the curiously delightful conversations they’ve overheard around National Geographic’s headquarters. You’ll be introduced to the explorers, photographers and scientists at the edges of our big, bizarre, and beautiful world.’ Hear about zombie mice, the hidden cost of the perfect selfie, and how beavers work as carbon releasers of the permafrost environment. The National Geographic website has lots of other wonderful things to explore.
- Scientific American If your attention span is short, these podcasts might suit you. They are short, snappy and always interesting. Learn about worm-like creatures which are our ancient ancestors, puffins using tools, COVID-19 updates and fungi on flaky scalps. Delightful !
Hopefully this list of science podcasts inspires you to tune in, get inspired and practise the art of listening. Remember that podcasts are also available through itunes, spotify, iHeart radio, Google Podcasts and radio network websites like the BBC, ABC, RNZ and our own local Dunedin based OAR FM: Science Academy(OUASSA) Student Podcasts and University of Otago Science Notes.