Science communication in action at Northeastern

This spring, students in Dr. Amy Carleton’s Advanced Writing in the Sciences at Northeastern University created lots of new Wikipedia articles as an assignment. The new articles include topics like tissue engineering of heart valvesextremophiles in biotechnologyBilophila wadsworthiaBoston University CTE Center and Brain Bank and food safety in the United States.

Tissue engineered heart valves are prosthetic heart valves that, unlike mechanical or biological options, are living heart valves created from a person’s own cells. These living heart valves are “capable of growing, adapting, and interacting within the human body’s biological system.” The brand new Wikipedia article that Dr. Carleton’s student created describes the procedure of regenerating heart tissue inside of the body, as well as the body’s response to the procedure. The article also describes the benefits that tissue engineered heart valves offer over biological and mechanical options; the risks of the procedure; and the history of such practices in medical research. The student even found images on Wikimedia Commons (Wikipedia’s sister site for media) to illustrate key concepts in the article.

Another student created an article about the Boston University CTE Center and Brain Bank, a research facility that studies the effects of brain trauma and degenerative diseases, specifically the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE can only be conclusively diagnosed after death, but the research facility is working on developing ways to diagnose and potentially treat CTE in living subjects.

Given that Wikipedia readers might be visiting the site to make health decisions, articles about medical or psychological topics must adhere to stricter standards of quality than many other articles. Dr. Carleton’s students have done a great job citing peer-reviewed sources that are considered reliable on Wikipedia and linking their new articles to related topics.

Students are uniquely positioned to communicate science topics to the general public, who may not have a background in the topic. Students remember what it was like not to have the context or scientific background needed to understand nuances, so they can explain what they’ve learned in ways that are clear for someone learning about the topic for the first time.

Want to have your students create or expand Wikipedia articles as an assignment? There are lots of reasons to do so! Access our free assignment templates, management tools, and student trainings at

Image: File:Suture micrograph.jpg,  Nephron, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.


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