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Science, history, and purring cats: Brief podcasts for the nerdy set

Enlarge / Podcasts with your interests—and attention span—in mind.Aurich Lawson / Getty Images

The beauty of the podcast format is also sometimes its curse: arbitrary episode lengths. Finding a new podcast to love can be daunting when episodes regularly exceed the hour-long mark. If youre struggling to commit to podcasts on topics like history and science, dont fret: We have recommendations for great series that typically serve complete episodes well under half an hour.

Science Diction

Sometimes the best way to recover from stress is to focus on learning something new. Science Diction helps with this by presenting the etymologies of familiar scientific technical terms alongside bite-sized usage histories of how people engage with science. The episode on "Meme," for example, tells the story of the word's coinage as a parallel to "gene" to show how ideas spread through a culture. Science Diction talks about the spread of "meme" itself, sometimes as a meme, until it became the one of the most common ways to refer to images and jokes passed around on the Internet. An episode titled "Vaccine," meanwhile, teaches us what happens when the public is scared of new science, describing antivax propaganda nearly as old as the first vaccines themselves.

Science Diction releases episodes monthly, and it only started this year, so many of its episodes are about concepts related to COVID-19. Even if youre fatigued by that topic, I still recommend this podcast as a refreshing, historical overview of similar stories, told in a laid-back way.

Chemistry in its Element

What Science Diction does with science terms, Chemistry in its Element does with science materials. Originally a show about the history and usage of chemical elements, CE branched out when it reached the end of the periodic table. Now the show offers accessible discussions of more complex chemicals. While many of their episodes focus on chemicals related to current events, like potential COVID-19 cures, they also discuss everyday chemicals like porcelain and 2AP (which gives buttered popcorn its distinctive smell). Some episodes even dive into fascinating science fiction compounds like hexasilabenzene, which could make silicon-based alien life possible. It's a wonderful way to learn about how chemistry relates to our lives.

Witness History

If history is more your thing, try spending your brain breaks with Witness History, a BBC podcast that tells the stories of historical events from the perspective of people who were actually there. This podcast spends more time on serious topics than the others on this list, but its miniseries about Black history and the fall of the Berlin Wall are well worth listening to. And if you're willing to spend a little time poking around in their archive, there's a lot of hope to be found in the BBC's retelling of history, from the story of Jewish women winning the right to pray at the Western Wall, to the history of the "Friendship Train" that runs between India and Bangladesh, to an interview with the first astronauts to board the International Space Station.

Purrcast

If you're tired of people talking at you all day, and wish you could just spend your lunch break at home with your cat—or if you don't have a cat, and wish you did—you may want to give Purrcast a listen. Each episode is approximately five minutes of a cat purring. That's it. There are no ads, aside from occasional shoutouts to the cat rescue where the episodes are recorded. There is no background music or images of someone else's cat to distract you from the companionship of your ideal feline friend.

Purrcast might be the most relaxing podcast on this list—and it might be good to intersperse between some of the shows on this list in retrospect. My advice: play the podcast through your phones speakers, then rest your device on your lap or chest so you can pretend the cat is lying on you while it purrs. Its all of the anxiety-melting goodness of cat ownership without a litter box to deal with.

QWERPline

If you're looking more specifically for a reason to laugh, I recommend QWERPline, a semi-improvised narrative podcast by Canadian comedy troupe LoadingReadyRun that takes the form of a morning radio show from a topsy-turvy small town. ThinkRead More – Source

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