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10 Podcasts That Will Make You Feel Smarter

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No matter what you're in the mood to learn, there's a podcast out there to help you. The web's best educational podcasts can transform even the most boring commute into an immersive lesson in astrophysics, American history, or the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Here are 10 brain-boosting programs worth downloading.

1. PRESIDENTIAL

Every episode of this 44-part series from The Washington Post is dedicated to the life and legacy of a different U.S. president. Host Lillian Cunningham and a Pulitzer Prize-winning panel of guest historians discuss topics like Lincoln’s love for language, Washington’s skills on the dance floor, and the real story behind William Henry Harrison’s untimely death. Presidential airs every Sunday from now until November 9, 2016 (the subject of the final episode has yet to be determined).

2. STARTALK

In his stellar podcast, host and astrophysics superstar Neil deGrasse Tyson covers everything from the science of movies to protecting the earth from asteroids. StarTalk regularly features big-name guests (George Takei, Buzz Aldrin, Morgan Freeman, Edward Snowden, and Elon Musk, to name a few) to talk about science and how it intersects with pop culture.

3. THE TOLKIEN PROFESSOR

Corey Olsen has devoted his life to studying the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. After getting fed up with the barriers separating academia from the general reading public, the college professor decided to make his lectures, seminars, and discussions on the author available to a wider audience. Since 2009, The Tolkien Professor has featured hundreds of podcasts exploring The Hobbit and beyond.

4. PLANET MONEY

You don’t have to be an expert on the economy to enjoy this podcast. Hosts tackle diverse topics like offshore tax havens, black market pharmacies, and ballpark hot dog vendors in a way that makes you feel like you're chatting with a money-savvy friend. Episodes of Planet Money come in easy-to-digest 15 to 20 minute packages, making them an easy listen at home or on the go.

5. HARDCORE HISTORY

The stories presented in Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History aren’t your average history lessons. The veteran journalist and broadcaster digs up some of the most compelling scenes in world history and breaks them down in a way that will have listeners rethinking what they learned in school. Topics range from Biblical-era coup conspiracies to the violent impact of World War I. New episodes are released every two to five months, but the three to four-hour run times are enough to keep listeners feeling satisfied for a while.

6. THE NAKED SCIENTISTS

The Naked Scientists from BBC looks at the science questions you’d never think to ask, from the mundane (How fast can an elevator go?) to the far-reaching (Could we recognize a message from space?). Prolific science guests stars have included Alec Jeffreys, who discovered DNA fingerprints, and the former president of the Royal Society, Trinity College Professor Martin Rees. The program also features an interactive component with live questions from listeners.

7. YOU ARE NOT SO SMART

What better way to make yourself feel smarter than by reminding yourself how little you actually know? In You Are Not So Smart, host David McRaney examines the cognitive biases, heuristics, and logical fallacies that contribute to the self-delusions we all experience—and then he eats a cookie at the end.

8. RADIOLAB

Each episode of Radiolab revolves around an overarching concept. Themes like “Worth,” “Things,” and “Translation” may sound unfocused, but in-depth interviews and incredibly human stories tether the complex science to everyday life. If you don’t have a full hour to set aside for the show, they also release 15- to 20-minute episodes that explore one story at a time.

9. LEXICON VALLEY

If you’ve ever pondered the etymology of words like humdinger and hootenanny, this podcast is for you. Host Bob Garfield fills each rough half hour of Lexicon Valley talking with linguists and lexicographers about the quirks of language we encounter in everyday life. Questions you never knew you needed answers to, like Why is Pumpernickel bread named for a Farting Devil? and When did we start using sleep as a stand in for sex and death?, are all explored.

10. SAWBONES: A MARITAL TOUR OF MISGUIDED MEDICINE

It’s easy to forget all the misguided things that have been passed off as medical treatment over the years. Fortunately, the husband-and-wife team Justin and Sydnee McElroy are here to remind us. Every week, the duo spends 30 minutes to an hour explaining a different forgotten oddity from medical history. Listening to Sawbones will make you grateful that doctors are no longer prescribing leeches as a cure-all.

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Tulane University Offers Free Semester to Students Affected by Hurricane Maria
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As Puerto Rico continues to assess the damage left by Hurricane Maria last month, one American institution is offering displaced residents some long-term hope. Tulane University in New Orleans is waiving next semester’s tuition fees for students enrolled at Puerto Rican colleges prior to the storm, Forbes reports.

From now until November 1, students whose studies were disrupted by Maria can apply for one of the limited spots still open for Tulane’s spring semester. And while guests won’t be required to pay Tulane's fees, they will still be asked to pay tuition to their home universities as Puerto Rico rebuilds. Students from other islands recovering from this year’s hurricane season, like St. Martin and the U.S. Virgin Islands, are also welcome to submit applications.

Tulane knows all too well the importance of community support in the wake of disaster. The campus was closed for all of the 2005 fall semester as New Orleans dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. During that time, schools around the world opened their doors to Tulane students who were displaced. The university wrote in a blog post, “It’s now our turn to pay it forward and assist students in need.”

Students looking to study as guests at Tulane this spring can fill out this form to apply.

[h/t Forbes]

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Pablo, a Groundbreaking New BBC Series, Teaches Kids About Autism
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Autism spectrum disorder affects one in 68 kids in the U.S., but there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding the nature of the condition and what it feels like to have it. As BuzzFeed reports, a new British children’s program aims to teach viewers about autism while showing kids on the spectrum characters and stories to which they can relate.

Pablo, which premiered on the BBC’s kids’ network CBeebies earlier this month, follows a 5-year-old boy as he navigates life with autism. The show uses two mediums: At the start of an episode, Pablo is played by a live actor and faces everyday scenarios, like feeling overstimulated by a noisy birthday party. When he’s working out the conflict in his head, Pablo is depicted as an animated doodle accompanied by animal friends like Noa the dinosaur and Llama the llama.

Each character illustrates a different facet of autism spectrum disorder: Noa loves problem-solving but has trouble reading facial expression, while Llama notices small details and likes repeating words she hears. On top of demonstrating the diversity of autism onscreen, the show depends on individuals with autism behind the scenes as well. Writers with autism contribute to the scripts and all of the characters are voiced by people with autism.

“It’s more than television,” the show’s creator Gráinne McGuinness said in a short documentary about the series. “It’s a movement that seeks to build awareness internationally about what it might be like to see the world from the perspective of someone with autism.”

Pablo can be watched in the UK on CBeebies or globally on the network's website.

[h/t BuzzFeed]

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