Sunday, December 4, 2011

Science Podcast Roundup: Part 1

To say I listen to a lot of podcasts would be an understatement. I constantly have headphones in my ears, much to the delight of friends and family who like to see if they can catch me unawares and scare the bajeezus out of me. There are so many podcasts out there, and the fact that they are free is just icing on the cake. I find that they are a great way to keep up on news, national, international, and science news in particular. But the multitude can often make it difficult to choose which ones to subscribe to. So I thought I would put together a list of science podcasts to help you decide. I’m limiting my list to those I’ve actually listened to so I can give a more honest opinion. If you have a podcast that you love, and that I haven’t listed here, then please leave comment.
I started off this post thinking that it would be quick and easy. Yeah, not so much. I started writing, and writing, and writing. I soon came to realize that (1) I probably listen to way too many podcasts, and (2) just one post wasn’t gonna cut it. And so this is part one of the Science Podcast Roundup.

All of these podcasts can be found in the iTunes directory or through RSS feeds on the websites I’ve provided.

60 Second Science

This is a podcast from Scientific American with the tagline “It’ll just take a minute.” The brief show is presented by science journalists who describe an interesting science story in, you guessed it, 60 seconds. The purpose of such a short podcast is simply to give you, the public, an easily consumable, bite-size piece of news or commentary. Personally, I find the stories interesting and well presented, but the one minute format can be annoying on a mechanical level. If listening on iTunes or my iPod I find that when one episode ends I must go to the window or device and scroll to the next one, interrupting whatever other task I’m doing every minute or so.
The accompanying blog called “Observations”

Ask a Biologist

This show can be found in the iTunesU section and comes from the Arizona State University School of Life Sciences. The approximately 30 minute show is hosted by Dr. Biology (a.k.a. CJ Kazilek). The show is geared towards students prekindergarten through grade 12, and it is intended as a resource for teachers and parents. Questions appropriate to this age class can be submitted to be answered by Dr. Biology, and the host often has interviews with scientists. If you have an inquisitive child then this is the perfect podcast for you!

Astronomy Cast

This podcast is a “fact-based journey through the cosmos.” It is a weekly (for the most part) discussion on all sorts of astronomical topics ranging from planets, to physics, to space missions, and more. It is hosted by Fraser Cain, publisher of Universe Today, and Dr. Pamela Gay, a professor at Southern Illinois University Edwarsville. Fraser takes a host role while also asking the questions that you yourself would ask of a particular topic. Pamela does a great job explaining a topic in detail, often using examples that make the topic understandable and that easily translate through audio. You don’t have to be an astronomer to understand what they are talking about, this podcast is for anyone. I like the 30 minute time format, you wouldn’t think it but it is actually a good amount of time for grasping a topic. Also, the podcast has been running since September 10, 2006, and as it is topic based and not current event based, it is easy to go back and listen to past episodes without feeling like you will miss something or get behind on a discussion. Personally, I love their tour through the solar system where they devote an episode to each of the planets and major components of our solar system.

Big Picture Science

This podcast is presented by the SETI Institute’s radio studio in Mountain View, California. It is a weekly, one hour show that is broadcast on several radio stations in the U.S. (and one in Italy) as well as being rebroadcast on many Internet radio stations, in addition to its podcast format. The show “connects ideas about the origins, the behavior, and the future of life – and technology – on Earth in surprising and playful ways.” And once a month they have a “Skeptic Check” episode where they “separate science from pseudoscience – and facts from the phony.” I find that this podcast covers some really interesting topics and has great interviews. Sometimes the hosts can sound a little staged and robotic and the sound pieced together, especially for interviews, but it is overall it is easy to listen to and very informative.


This podcast is brought to you by NPR and has several hosts that range in expertise from birders to broadcasters. This daily podcast consists of short two minute or so episodes about “the intriguing ways of birds.” They are usually topical, focusing on a particular habitat, behavior, or species and incorporate some wonderfully rich bird sounds. This podcast suffers from the same short formatting issues as 60 Second Science, if your device doesn’t auto-advance then you are constantly scrolling to the next episode. On the other hand, each episode has that smooth, professional quality that is so talk radio. I would say that this show is more for the average listener and/or backyard birder. Hardcore birders might be better entertained and informed elsewhere.

Bits: Tech Talk

I don’t listen to all that many technology related podcasts, but I do really like this one. It is from The New York Times. It is a 30 minute long, weekly podcast hosted by J.D. Biersdorfer and Pedro Rafael Rosado. It discusses tech news, trends and innovations. They have really great hands-on computing tips – I particularly like their Tip of the Week. They include product reviews and have interviews with inventors, manufacturers, and software experts. Their website also links to all of the stories they talk about each week.

Brain Science Podcast

This podcast is hosted by Dr. Ginger Campbell, an emergency physician with an interest in mind-body medicine, the brain, and consciousness. Episodes are approximately monthly and range in time from 20 minutes to just over an hour. The podcast features discussions on the latest books about neuroscience as well as interviews with leading scientists in the field. I find that when Dr. Campbell just reviews a book that it comes off much like she is reading a well researched book report. However, when she interviews someone the show flows more naturally, perhaps because she is engaging with another scientist. Also, the podcast can get rather technical and so I would recommend it to those in the science and medical fields rather than just the average listener.

Brain Stuff

This podcast is from the folks over at How Stuff and is hosted by Marshall Brain. Episodes are released every other day and are about 3 minutes in length. Originally I read the title thinking it may be a neurology podcast. Not so. This podcast answers a single user-submitted question per show. The host is engaging but the audio is not all that great, making him sound like he’s sitting in a big hollow room with an itty bitty microphone. The subject matter, while interesting at times, tends to be a little young. If you have kids then they might find it fun and neat to find out what makes glass transparent or how blimps work.


This podcast is produced by Cell Press, the publisher who puts out peer reviewed journals such as Cell, Current Biology, Neuron, Trends in Ecology and Evolution (TREE), and many others. It is hosted by the editors of this group and features interviews with the scientists that have published papers in this journal group. The monthly podcast runs 20 to 30 minutes long. It is easy to listen to and features some really interesting and groundbreaking science. However, I would recommend it for scientists and other academics as it can get rather technical. If you are unfamiliar with the terminology in the fields of cell biology, chemistry, genetics, immunology, and evolution then you can get lost very quickly. I find that it is a good way to keep up with a topic that I am familiar with but that I don’t really read the literature on with any regularity.
Website: http://


This podcast is from the folks over at the BBC. Episodes run about 20 minutes and come out each week. Their objective is to take an “in-depth look at the most significant ideas, discoveries and trends in science, from the smallest microbe to the furthest corner of space.” I like this podcast quite a bit. It presents news with a global perspective, something I appreciate since news in the U.S., even science news, tends to be U.S.-centric. They cover a wide range of topics, and they even report on location. A show tends to be topic driven, only covering one topic per week, so if you are looking for broader science news coverage then you may want to listen to a different podcast.

The Naked Scientists

No they are not actually naked (I think…and hope), but rather these podcasters strip down science to its bare essentials so that it is easily understood by the public. This podcast is a weekly science radio talk show broadcast by the BBC, and it runs about an hour long. It is hosted out of Cambridge University by its creator Dr. Chris Smith along with Dave Ansell, Kat Arney, Sara Castor-Perry, Ben Valsler, Carolin Crawford, Dominic Ford, and more. Their fields of expertise vary from medicine to physics to marine biology, which means that the science news stories they present are both varied and interesting. To go along with these stories they have sections on kitchen science (small, safe experiments you can do at home), interviews, and question shows. Note: If you are using iTunes, all of the regular and specialty shows from The Naked Scientists come in both podcast and iTunesU versions. I recommend subscribing to the podcast version as it will update automatically and be listed under Podcasts rather than Music on your iPod.

Naked Astronomy

This is one of the specialty shows from The Naked Scientists. It is a monthly, one hour long show on the happenings in astronomy news. It is hosted by Ben Valsler, Andrew Pontzen, Carolin Crawford, and Dominic Ford. This podcast has really great interviews and question shows as well. It is pretty comprehensive on all of the big astronomy news that has happened over the past month, explaining each story in such a way that both scientists and the lay person will enjoy.
Website: http://www.thenakedscientists/astronomy

Naked Oceans

Another specialty show from The Naked Scientists, this podcast takes you down under the waves, and into the ocean. This is a monthly, 30 minute show that discusses all of the latest news in marine biology. It is hosted by Helen Scales and Sarah Castor-Perry and often has guests and interviews. I find that it is a little less technical, or maybe just a little easier to follow, than Naked Astronomy, but perhaps that is only a result of the topic. It has a light-hearted almost playful feel to it while still presenting serious science stories.
Website: http://www.thenakedscientists/oceans


NASA has several audio and video podcasts. The shows cover a wide variety of space topics, current space news, and NASA missions in particular. The podcasts are approximately weekly and range in run time from 10-15 minutes. The This Week @NASA podcast can be a bit choppy as they present many stories in a short span of time. However, the other podcasts are more topic driven and so flow better and explain the week’s topic in greater detail, and the video podcasts have some great NASA images and interviews with specialists and astronauts. It is a good podcast for keeping up on all things NASA.
Website: http://
Nature Podcast

Nature is one of the top journals in the field of science, and this is a podcast created by this publication. The podcast is hosted by Kerri Smith, Geoff Brumfiel and Geoff Marsh, along with reporters Charlotte Stoddart, Eric Olson and Natasha Gilbert. Each week the approximately 30 minute show covers the top stories from Nature, often featuring interviews with scientists and reporting on location. This podcast seems to be on par with Science Friday, so if you already like and listen that one you will probably like this one.

The Nerdist

I’m including this podcast no so much as a great science reference but more as a fun geekology listen. It is a weekly show that runs about an hour and is hosted by Chris Hardwick, Jonah Ray, and Matt Mira. Each episode typically features a famous guest – the kind of famous that everyone knows, not just scientists, like Stan Lee, Drew Carey, Dave Attell, etc. etc. etc. The guests are varied but usually relate to nerd culture, comedy, or science in some way. I find the show to be very entertaining, and the conversations with and stories told by the guests are usually really funny. It’s a light listen, something for when you don’t want to be bogged down in hard science and need a laugh. It is probably important to mention that the hosts occasionally (or sometimes frequently) swear, so you might not throw this on the mp3 player with the kiddies in earshot.

That's all for now. For the rest of this list continue on to the Science Podcast Roundup: Part 2.

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