The science podcasts for all kinds of audiences

Listening to documentaries is an entertaining way to learn about a new subject

 Brian Cox and Robin Ince present The Infinite Monkey Cage on BBC Radio 4. Photograph: Richard Ansett/BBC

Brian Cox and Robin Ince present The Infinite Monkey Cage on BBC Radio 4. Photograph: Richard Ansett/BBC

 

As the darker evenings draw in, how about keeping your spirits up with a bit of science between your ears?

Recent years have seen an explosion of science-related podcasts, from nerdy and fascinating conversations to magazine-style edits or “as-live” shows that tease out science through humour in front of an audience.

Dr Shaun O’Boyle, who studied physiology before moving into science communication, has co-produced several podcasts exploring science, and he also listens daily to podcasts made by others.

“A podcast might be a one-off documentary about a subject, or a series that explores particular themes or areas,” he says.

Science-related podcasts have proliferated in recent years, notes O’Boyle, and they range from the “person-with-a-microphone” to highly produced shows.

From conversation to comedy

One of his favourite “conversational” podcasts is Talk Nerdy by Cara Santa Maria, which O’Boyle likes to listen to on his walk to work at Dublin’s Science Gallery.

“She interviews people and asks them what they are really nerdy about,” says O’Boyle.

“She comes from a science perspective, and she talks to scientists and mathematicians, but sometimes she will interview an economist, a teacher, a policy maker or a lawyer.

“It starts with a normal conversation, then gets into the meat of what they care about or their work, or what they have studied or written about.

“You leave those podcasts feeling like you have a good insight, or what it is like to work on a particular topic.”

Other podcasts have more of a “magazine” feel, and many of them are drawn from radio programmes.

Good examples include Futureproof on Newstalk and Inside Science from BBC Radio 4, according to O’Boyle.

Another of his favourites is Science Vs, which looks at evidence relating to issues such as gun control and organic food.

“You follow Wendy Zukerman, the host, as she looks at the science in an engaging way, and you learn as she goes through that process.”

Some shows lean on comedy, such as The Infinite Monkey Cage (from BBC Radio 4) with Brian Cox and Robin Ince.

Another, Level Up Human, asks guests and the audience to propose ways that human biology could be enhanced.

That show, hosted by Simon Watt, recently recorded episodes in Science Gallery Dublin.

Tales well told

O’Boyle has been producing the gallery’s own podcasts, interviewing people about the crossover of science, society, art and business.

Along with Maurice Kelliher, he has also produced podcasts for the annual Festival of Curiosity.

“For us, it is about telling stories in a way they are not usually told,” he says. “We made one documentary, You Are Here, that tells the history of the universe in 46 minutes, and another, Tales from the Cryptid, about fantastic stories of hoaxes and urban legends.

“This year, we produced Earthlings in Outer Space, about animals that travelled to space before humans did. It was an interesting lens through which to look at the space race.”

To find and listen to podcasts, O’Boyle recommends checking out the native podcast apps on your smartphone or tablet, as well as apps that let you search for podcasts and organise your playlists.

For podcasts from O’Boyle and Kelliher, visit mauriceandshaun.com

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