For university students, podcasts can provide a much-needed respite from the monotony of studying and attending online classes. Their portable format makes them a great tool to learn science on the go while commuting, running errands, or doing chores. The McGill Tribune has compiled some of our favourite science podcasts for easy and informative listening.
Ologies with Alie Ward
Every week, actress and journalist Alie Ward invites an expert in a random scientific field to discuss their research in a way that appeals to any listener, regardless of their level of scientific literacy. From thanatology, the study of death, to dendrology, the study of trees, Ward learns alongside us as the guest expounds on their favourite -ology, complete with fun asides to break down the scientific jargon. The show’s tagline, “Asking smart people dumb questions,” captures the lighthearted curiosity that inspires Ward’s love of science and reels in listeners.
Since its inception in 2017, Ologies has grown enormously popular and now boasts more than 50 million listeners across over 250 episodes. Part of its appeal is Ward’s unique ability to keep the science accessible and fun with witty banter and her bubbly personality.
Favourite episode: Cheloniology (SEA TURTLES) with Camryn Allen
In light of the current pandemic, many people may not be reaching for a podcast about deadly diseases. But hosts Erin Welsh and Erin Allan Updyke manage to make learning about the science of illnesses an escapist experience. In under two hours, the Erins explore not only the mechanisms of disease at the molecular level, but also the social and historical contexts of a given virus. In fact, the show’s strong point lies in its attention to how disease research interacts with social justice: Episodes exploring the nonconsensual use of Henrietta Lacks’ cells or the stigma surrounding Hepatitis B ties medical research to activism. And for those who can still stomach pandemic content, their ongoing mini-series, Anatomy of a Pandemic, delves into the myriad effects of COVID-19, from physical symptoms to government mismanagement and a growing mental health crisis.
Favourite episode: Sickle Cell Disease: Invisible Illness, Enduring Strength
Daniel & Jorge Explain the Universe
For those who may be intimidated by the complexities of astronomy and astrophysics, look no further than Daniel and Jorge Explain the Universe, an entertaining romp through space-time concepts from quirks and quarks to the Higgs boson. Each episode entices listeners with questions that are both endlessly fascinating and terribly complex, like “Can we build a wormhole?” and “Could a solar flare wipe out humanity?” The hosts are Daniel Whiteson, a physics professor at the University of California, Irvine and researcher at CERN, and Jorge Cham, a scientist-turned-cartoonist and science communicator. Both have a talent for distilling complicated scientific concepts down into digestible segments for listeners, especially those who may not be well-versed in physics. Where many podcast host duos sound like they are trying a little too hard to infuse the episode with humour, Cham and Whiteson have an organic chemistry that is infectious and easy to listen to.
Favourite episode: Is there an explanation for the Universe, or is it random?
With new episodes released every Tuesday, SciShow Tangents was launched in 2018 as a podcast offshoot of the popular Youtube science channel SciShow. The hosts include science communicators Hank Green, Ceri Riley, and Sam Schultz.
Each episode is under an hour and tackles one broad topic—anything from birds of prey to mirrors to volcanoes. Filled with hilarious and oftentimes weird science facts, the hosts try to one-up each other while trying to avoid going on a “tangent.” However, staying on topic is usually unsuccessful, resulting in a a podcast that feels like listening to a conversation between friends. The hosts often play Two Truths and a Lie as they try to guess which bizarre fact from a list is a falsehood, making it an interactive experience for the listener as well.
Favourite episode: Black Holes
The allure of the Nature Podcast is simple—every week, in under 20 minutes, it covers the best emerging stories in science, ranging from vaccines and ecology to astronomy. For those who get their latest scientific intel from podcasts, this one can be an easy way to stay up-to-date on a spectrum of science news.
If you were wondering whether it has any relation to the prestigious research journal Nature, you are not mistaken. The podcast features a selection of exciting research from each issue of the journal, and takes time to showcase the scientists behind the research, too.
Favourite episode: Recreating the lost sounds of spring