13 Smart Podcasts That Will Feed Your Hunger for Knowledge and Ideas

Want to get smarter during your commute? There are a lot of fantastic podcasts that will teach you new things in a thoroughly entertaining way. Here are 13 podcasts that will expand your brain with cutting-edge science and cutlural analysis.


1. Radiolab

Radiolab is a beautifully produced podcast that weaves together science and personal narratives into a thematic whole. Host Jad Abumrad’s background in music composition and production adds a lyrical and poetic feeling. Every month the main show centers on a theme like bliss or color and is composed of several segments with interviews. The interviews can be with experts or just people with an interesting story to tell. Shorter features about specific stories, like ant invasions or the founder of the Heimlich maneuver, are released to fill in the gaps between the main shows. The main shows are about an hour and shorts between 15-20 minutes

2. The Infinite Monkey Cage

This British chat show is hosted by physicist Brian Cox and comedian Robin Ince and consists of a panel of other scientists, comedians and celebrities. Each show has a loose topic of discussion like space exploration. The show is fast pace and very funny if you like British humor. The negative is the podcast only has a six week run twice a year, and shows are only 29 minutes each. New episodes won’t be out until June.


3. The Dork Forest

The Dork Forest is a safe place where all the Rangers of the Dork Forest can go as deep into whatever dorkdom they have. Comedian Jackie Kashian interviews people one on one about whatever obsesses them in life. The topics can range from beekeeping to comic books. Since Kashian is a comedian many of her guests are also standup comedians making for good banter and funny off topic asides. She also gets guests like comic book author Bill Willingham and novelist Lois Mcmaster Bujold. It is a grab bag of a show, where you always learn about something interesting. Podcasts are usually an hour long and come out once a week.


4. Stuff You Should Know

Hosts Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark chat about a topic and break down the complex science or sociology behind it into easy to understand concepts. The conversational tone of the podcast makes you feel more like you are sitting with friends instead of being lectures. There is a real sense of curiosity from the hosts as they talk about subjects from platypuses to zombies. The bite size podcasts are only about 25 minutes each but come out at least once a week, sometimes more.


5. Stuff to Blow Your Mind

The podcast explores the possible science behind fringe phenomenon like human lightning rods or the applications of cutting edge technology, like 3-D printers, and what is means for society, or sometimes the topic is just something cool that is interesting to know. Shows are around a half an hour and come out about twice a week. This podcast like Stuff You Should Know is put out by howstuffworks.com. http://www.howstuffworks.com/hsw-podcast.ht…”>How Stuff Workss puts out a few podcasts on a variety of topics and is worth checking out for some additional recommendations.


6. Story Collider

This is a really neat podcast where people tell stories about how science has touched their lives. The focus here is story telling. Participants and stories range from scientists falling in and out of love, bartenders studying quantum physics and people struggling with disease and grief. They are compelling tales that take a human look at science and technology. Podcasts are usually just shy of 15 minutes in length and come out once a week.


7. Star Talk Radio

Science hero Neil Degrasse Tyson has a podcast, and he rocks it with his late night DJ voice. Sometimes the podcast focuses on interviews with celebrities like Alan Rickman and Anthony Bourdain. Other times the podcasts are in studio sessions called Cosmic Queries where Tyson answers questions from the audience about astronomy and other more general space questions. A rotating cast of comedians co-host the in studio shows adding humor and fun banter. Episodes are about 45 minutes and come out roughly 3 times a month.


8. 99% Invisible

The very concept of this show is cool. It is exploring “the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world”. The focus is on how design and technology impact the world around us in ways we don’t even really notice. It is beautifully produced and edited, telling compact and complete stories. The website offers interesting supplementary material to the features. If you like Radiolab this is one to check out. Sadly this lovely show is only between 11-25 minutes in length and comes out every two weeks.


9. Geek's Guide to the Galaxy

This podcast hosted by John Joseph Adams and David Barr Kirtley will be of particular interest to fans of science fiction and fantasy literature. The first part of each podcast is an interview with a well-known or hot author in science fiction or fantasy. Recent guest have included Hugh Howey, Naolo Hopkins and Gregory Maguire. The interviews touch on some fascinating topics about the author’s works. The second part of the show is a discussion between the hosts and another guest, who is generally an expert on whatever the day’s topic is. Usually the discussion topic is thematically tied to the author interview and ranges from self-publishing to fencing. Episodes length from one to two hours about every two weeks.


10. Quirks and Quarks

This weekly radio show hosted by Bob McDonald is a great way to stay current on interesting science news across all disciplines. The show consists of several segments about different stories in the science news, and in each segment there is a brief conversation and Q&A with the scientist behind the findings. The show is very polished and the host is engaging and professional. The podcast has a lot jammed into an hour making it a good overview. The excellent website also allows listeners to pick out the segments they are interested in hearing instead of the entire show.


11. Science Friday

Host Ira Flatow and a panel of expert guests discuss science topics in the news. The two hour radio show is chopped into small segments and distributed via the RSS feed in hort little topical features that run around ten minutes long. There is a new program once a week that is presented in 7-9 segments for podcast listeners. This is a good option if you need flexibility and can’t commit to a long podcast.


12. The Tolkien Professor

If you love Tolkien this is the podcast for you. Presented by Dr. Corey Olsen a professor of English at Washington College, this podcast is solely about the in depth study of Tolkien’s works. How in depth? The show is currently on seminar 33 about the Simarllion. The show is really erratic in scheduling, putting out 2-8 episodes a month.


13. Professor Blastoff

This show isn’t exactly science, more science adjacent. Comedians Tig Notaro, Kyle Dunnigan and David Huntsberger have a weekly conversation with a guest about topics that interest them from science to philosophy to the metaphysical. Sometimes the guests are other comedians and sometimes actual scientists. The conversations are funny and often times thought provoking. If you are a new listener you’ll probably need to get past the intro and into the subject matter to warm up to the show. The shows come out once a week and run a little over an hour.


Top image from NASA.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter