Science podcasts: 12 excellent BBC podcasts to boost your brain
Commutes are boring, science podcasts are not. Here are a few of the best BBC podcasts keeping us entertained and up to date with the latest in science.
We love a good podcast, especially when we’re doing something boring like commuting to work or doing the dishes. And, being the brains behind BBC Science Focus, what else would we listen to other than ones dedicated to science! We’ve spent hours casting our ears (is that an expression?) over a load of them, and here’s what we reckon are 11 of the best science podcasts from the BBC (plus a bonus show).
If you’re going to start any respectable list of BBC podcasts (or any podcasts for that matter) you might as well start with one of the most popular. Always lurking around the top of the iTunes homepage and on many a list of the best science podcasts, Professor Brian Cox and comedian (and former BBC Focus columnist) Robin Ince’s irreverent chatter about the latest goings on in science and technology never fails to amuse.
All sorts of celebrities and science glitterati join them on stage, so it’s never short of a witty tale, unconventional opinion and fascinating insight into subjects ranging from randomness to big data, climate change and sleep – it’s all in there. Still yet to get to the bottom of when a strawberry can be considered dead though…
Broadcaster and expert in space medicine Kevin Fong put together this celebratory podcast in honour of 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon landing, and oh wow, does it deliver! The title of the show is from the 13 minutes it took the Eagle lander to complete its descent from the Lunar Command Module to the surface of the Moon, but the show itself covers the years and people who made this incredible achievement possible, all backed by a score written by Grammy Award-winning composer Hans Zimmer.
It culminates in a thrilling final episode that plays the audio between the Apollo crew and Mission Control in full, capturing the tension and relief of one of the most significant moments in all human history.
If you can't get enough Kevin Fong, we spoke to him in the Science Focus Podcast about why the Moon landing is still relevant 50 years on.
Looking for a new podcast? This fascinating series, hosted by Patrick Ayree, is still in its infancy, but promises to highlight the amazing ways animals have influenced the way we tackle technological problems and help us better understand the world around us.
At the time of writing, it's only two episodes in, but already we're hooked, so expect plenty more biomimetics and animal oddities.
If you’re often left scratching your head and wondering how even science could make sense of some of the odd concepts you hear from time to time, then fear not, science sleuths Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry are here to save the day.
The podcast expands on the 10-minute radio show, as the hosts investigate listeners’ everyday mysteries in this wonderfully informative and oftentimes silly show. Ever wondered why the Earth spins, how much the bacteria inside our bodies weighs, and why we don’t remember the first few years of our lives? It’s all in there, with a few extra bonuses and the chance to be the Curio of the Week – what an honour!
Ever heard someone in the news quote a stat that immediately gets you thinking “I’m not sure about that…”? We’re prone to trust everything we hear from reputable news sources (unless someone starts shouting fake news!), but maybe we need to cast a more critical eye on the world around us.
Although More or Less isn’t strictly a science podcast, we love the methodical debunking of spurious statistics and unsubstantiated claims. Well, most of the time, as occasionally they find the story behind the stats is actually true, but when that does happen it’s often more alarming than if it were false.
The world moves at a rapid pace, with scientific advances upsetting our understanding of it on a seemingly daily basis. Fortunately, Dr Adam Rutherford pops up on this list again, this time lending his voice to the BBC Inside Science podcast, keeping us up to date with the latest science news and discoveries.
It’s a great podcast if you need to know the most important developments but don’t have time to sift through endless news sites digging out the juicy science stories.
If you’ve ever thumbed your way to the back page of BBC Focus magazine you’ll find our Life Scientific section, where we interview leading scientists about their life’s work. Well this podcast is just that, but on overdrive.
Every week, the biggest names in science, nature and technology sit down with the thoroughly delightful Jim Al-Khalili (the theoretical physicist we ourselves recently spoke to about AI), and chat about how they came to be scientists, their most significant discoveries, and what it means for humankind. If you want to know what the greatest scientists of our time are doing, or need a little inspiration, this is the best podcast for you.
Cancer is rubbish – it will directly affect more than one in three people in their lifetime, but nobody can avoid the effects it has on our society as a whole. So why do we seem so afraid to talk about it?
Rachael Bland, Deborah James and Lauren Mahon have no such reservations, and in You, Me and the Big C they candidly discuss everything - and by that we mean everything - that comes with of one of the most pressing medical issues of our time. Although it doesn’t technically fall under the term “science podcast”, the topics covered in the show range from the psychological impact of a cancer diagnosis, undergoing treatment, and coming to terms with an encroaching end of life, in a way that is funny, honest and powerful.
Sadly, Rachael Bland died in 2018 as a result of her cancer, so listening to the podcast now is even more poignant, but no less inspiring for anybody wanting to understand more about the disease and those who suffer from it.
You might recognise this one if you regularly thumb your way through the Q&A section of BBC Focus, as the podcast has lent their expertise and answered a few of their listeners’ questions in the magazine. Whereas the answers to questions submitted by the public in BBC Focus are short and sweet (perfectly formed some might say), CrowdScience expands on them to much greater detail by talking to the scientists running studies that actually go towards answering them.
It’s not a bad gig for the hosts, who get to travel the world in the pursuit of finding out things like whether hypnosis is real or whether bees could take over from sniffer dogs. That said, sometimes they have to become part of the experiment, for example host Marnie Chesterton recently had to go through with fasting to find out if it’s healthy – rather her than us, eh…
Have you watched Blue Planet II yet? If not, then why? David Attenborough’s second visit underneath the world’s waters is blooming marvellous, and one of the most visually stunning shows ever to grace television – it’s a real feast for the eyes. So what, we hear you ask, is it doing on a list of podcasts? Well obviously, there is a rather jolly podcast to accompany the show.
Presented by Emily Knight and Becky Ripley, it provides an irreverent look at each episode, diving deeper into the science of the seas, and going behind-the-scenes of the programme itself. Of course, it is full of spoilers, so it’s well worth picking up the Blu-Ray beforehand.
Each month the team behind BBC Sky at Night Magazine look at the big space and astronomy stories to emerge over the previous few weeks, from newly-discovered exoplanets to the search for life in the Solar System and the latest in human and robotic spaceflight.
Every episode features an interview with an astronomer or scientist making the news that month, be it the director of the Vatican Observatory, solar astronomers and meteor hunters or the scientists analysing data collected by spacecraft exploring the Solar System.
Radio Astronomy also includes tips on what you can see in the night sky over the coming weeks, and how to get started in stargazing. If you’ve ever stared up in wonder at the heavens above (and are suitably amused by its pun-tastic title), this is the podcast for you.
You might well have seen Click on the BBC News channel, but there is also an associated technology podcast (which used to be called Digital Planet, then changed to Click, and is now back to its original name). It covers all things tech, and is hosted by Gareth Mitchell, so well worth half an hour of your time every week if you want to be kept up to date with the trends in gadgets, technology and anything that powers off 1s and 0s.
Bonus podcast - Science Focus Podcast
“For shame,” you might say, “sneakily adding your own podcast to the list”. But there is a very good reason why it’s here – we happen to think it’s the best science podcast of the bunch.
Covering the length and breadth of all things remotely science-y, we talk to some of the brightest minds, scientists at the forefront of their field and technologists shaping the future of our planet, about everything from space colonisation and dinosaurs to virtual reality and how the brain works. Sometimes we’ll dig a little deeper into a subject in the latest issue of BBC Science Focus magazine, and other times it’s an opportunity to tell you about something we’ve found mind-bogglingly interesting.
Don’t take our word for it – check out all the episodes here and subscribe to the Science Focus Podcast on your favourite podcast app to get the latest episode as soon as it’s available.
There are, of course, many more excellent BBC podcasts for you to listen to, not just the science ones, so check out the full selection on offer here.