Hack your daily commute: Podcasts that make science fun (I promise!)

Charlotte Crawford-Shires is a Unimelb Adventures contributor. She is studying Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne. You can follow her on Instagram @charlotte.c.s

Are you looking for ways to upgrade your daily commute? Are you tired of pretending that you listen to podcasts like the rest of your friends and colleagues, but don’t know where to start? Do you think science is (at least somewhat) cool? Well, you’ve come to the right place!

If I lost you at the ‘science is cool’ bit, you’re probably not alone – most of the science we were exposed to in school is fairly dry and uninspiring. But science is so much more than stuffy old guys in lab coats, and endless chemical equations! Every part of our lives is influenced by scientific and technological discoveries and advancements, and I can guarantee that all of your interests have some kind of science involved that you can nerd out about in your own way.

One of the ways to find out about some of the amazing things that people are doing with science is (surprise!) podcasts, with hundreds of different shows that showcase innovative and passionate people talking about everything from astrophysics to molecular biology, and from the environment to psychology. So, without further ado, here are eight of my favourite science and technology podcasts that I’ve found (so far!).

1. The Infinite Monkey Cage, BBC Radio 4

Main areas: Astronomy, physics, biology, technology, psychology – essentially, a little bit of everything

Hosted by cosmologist Brian Cox (yes, that British space guy and former rock band keyboard player) and comedian Robin Ince, each episode features guest experts and/or comedians, and tackles everything from microbes to building a bionic human, to the future of our universe, and is guaranteed to keep you engaged and make you laugh on a crowded train (speaking from personal experience here).

Favourite episode: ‘Science’s Epic Fails’, 30 Jan 2017, and ‘When Two Stars Collide’, 8 January 2018. I love this show too much to pick just one! One episode is on some of the biggest mistakes in science history, and the other is on one of the most exciting successes.

2. All in the Mind, ABC Radio National

Main areas: Psychology, neuroscience, mental health

This weekly podcast tackles current issues and discoveries in the psychology and neuroscience sectors, often featuring experts in the field, and covers interesting cases and research in short, accessible episodes. If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about the ways in which kids develop, how dogs think, how drugs affect the brain, or the therapeutic abilities of music, make sure you check it out!

Favourite episode: ‘The Enigma of Time’, 30 September 2018. Time blows my mind, and this reminded me how wild it is.

3. Stuff You Should Know

Main areas: This isn’t specifically science-based, but there are a lot of cool episodes about lots of cool things, ranging across engineering, chemistry, physics, biology, and psychology.

You’ve probably heard about these guys before – they’re an amazing mix of funny and knowledgeable, and they make every part of the podcast, even the serious science stuff, accessible and interesting, and have a series of short 15-minute podcasts if you’re in a hurry. Their podcast covers culture and history too, and gives insight into how everyday stuff works, like trampolines, the number zero, and yo-yos.

Favourite episode: ‘Short Stuff: Emu Wars’, 17 April 2019. Because who doesn’t love having Australian culture represented internationally?

4. Future Tense, ABC Radio National

Main areas: Technology, environment, current affairs

Future Tense tackles the most current issues in technology and sustainability, and frames some of the more complicated issues, like artificial intelligence, in a range of interesting and accessible ways. Some of my favourite episodes of this podcast bring up questions I’d never even thought about, like the politics and economics of street art, the place of daily rituals in an increasingly digital life, and the future of classical music.

Favourite episode: ‘Noise – does it have a future?’, 28 April 2019. I’d thought it was obvious that noise would always be present and part of our lives, but this episode completely changed my view.

5. Off Track, ABC Radio National

Main areas: Environment, zoology

As if interesting stories about wildlife and environmental science weren’t reason enough to check this podcast out, every episode is accompanied by relaxing nature sounds, creating an absorbing and educational podcast that leaves you relaxed and inspired. This show brings in passionate and knowledgeable experts in areas that I can’t believe exist – who knew people could know so much about teenage eastern quolls, sea snakes, and echidna indigestion?

Favourite episode: ‘A sense of time’, 10 May 2019. I didn’t know how much there was to know about time perception for a swordfish until I heard this on the radio a few weeks ago!

6. The Naked Scientists

Main areas: Everything – plus this team has a series of specific podcasts, like neuroscience, archaeology, astronomy and genetics, so you can subscribe exclusively to the topics that interest you

This podcast is an amazing mix of all the coolest parts of science – experiments, science news, and interviews with innovative and passionate scientists from almost every field imaginable. Whether it’s the variety of veterinary science, cooking myths, brain hijacking, or Q&As from their listeners, this podcast makes all areas of science interesting and accessible, and covers a variety of diverse topics every episode, which is perfect if you don’t want to listen to the same topic for an hour.

Favourite episode: ‘Criminal Chemistry: What’s Your Poison?’, 9 January 2018. If you’re interested in the science of poisons, give this one a listen! Plus, there’s discussions about the science behind New Year’s resolutions and new space technology if poisons aren’t your thing.

7. Invisibilia, NPR

Main areas: Psychology, human and social sciences

Through blending current scientific debates and questions with narrative, this podcast is a unique way of approaching science discourse, but manages it remarkably well, creating a really interesting and enjoyable podcast that introduces some of the trickiest science debates of the moment so seamlessly that you almost forget you’re learning.

Favourite episode: ‘The Secret Emotional Life of Clothes’, Season 2, Episode 6. This episode, while not the most obviously science-based, analyses and discusses the varied and complex effects that clothing can have on our daily lives.

8. Science Vs, Gimlet

Main areas: Another all-rounder podcasts, often focused on busting medical and health-related fads

With so much easily accessible (and broadcast-able) information available, it’s no wonder that we end up hearing about as much myth as fact, especially where it concerns our health, where we’re always looking for the new super-drug to solve all of our problems. ‘Science Vs’ does a great job of analysing some of the biggest stories, products, and services on the market in a balanced, scientific way, while remaining entertaining and accessible.

Favourite episode: ‘Placebo: Can the Mind Cure You?’, 9 May 2019. The idea of your brain being tricked by a fake drug or treatment and creating the same effect without it is mind-blowing, and this episode looks into just how far placebo effects can go.

Now, I’m not expecting anyone to go out and find time to listen to all of these each week (I know I certainly don’t), but having a few interesting episodes downloaded means you always have something to listen to on your trip into uni, while you’re in the kitchen, on walks, during workouts, and on long car/plane trips over the holidays – plus, some of these might even be useful for exam revision!

The main common factor between all of these podcasts is how inspiring and accessible they are – even as someone who loves science, there are some areas and topics that aren’t necessarily my favourite, so to find podcasts that take the things I normally find boring and show me just how interesting they can be is wonderful.

I’ve heard so many people say that they “just don’t like science” and that it’s not their thing, but the only science they’ve experienced is in school, which, let’s face it, was pretty dry. Once you find an area that speaks to you, and some inspiring people to tell you about it, everyone can be a science fan in their own way. There’s so many awe-inspiring discoveries and discussions going on every day, and tuning in to the ones that interest you not helps you become more knowledgeable and curious in the world around you, but is also super fun!

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