Did life begin in a “warm little pond”? A student’s article lets you learn the science

Ula Jones in front of a computer screen
Ula Jones
Image courtesy Ula Jones, all rights reserved.

Charles Darwin coined the term “warm little pond” to describe the potential origin of life. But the idea lacked a Wikipedia article until Ula Jones created it this fall as part of a class assignment to improve Wikipedia’s coverage of the origin of life.

Ula is a first-year graduate student in earth and space sciences and astrobiology at the University of Washington. Her astrobiology professor, David Catling, assigned Ula and her classmates to edit Wikipedia as part of the class through Wiki Education’s Wikipedia Student Program this fall.

“I wanted to write about the warm little pond (WLP) hypothesis for this project both because geologic settings for the origin of life are relevant to my scientific background and research, and I was interested in the opportunity to synthesize the interdisciplinary links between chemistry, geology, and biology that underlie the topic,” Ula says.

Ula admits she was intimidated by the idea of writing for Wikipedia at first. But once she dove into the project, she got more excited.

“I eventually came to particularly like the idea of making my own work publicly available, as well as being able to read other students’ work and learn about those subjects,” she says. “Scientific literacy and communication are important to me. Since most people get their information online today, I was happy to have an opportunity to help expand access to discussions of recent research in a place where a lot of people might come across it.”

Ula says in choosing her topic, she engaged with both modern research that was directly relevant to class readings and sources that revealed historical context. Her research led her to learn more about Charles Darwin, Alexander Oparin, and John Haldane’s works, lives, and beliefs.

“This was pretty neat, because historical background seems to often be brushed over when learning and communicating science. However, in this case it was necessary to present the whole context of the WLP hypothesis,” she explains.

While Ula has written many papers before, one thing she found particularly meaningful from learning to write for Wikipedia was the emphasis on citations.

“My favorite part about writing for Wikipedia was probably learning and applying good citation practices and reference management. While I had some knowledge about this already, the specific examples of best practices and ways to avoid unintentional plagiarism in the training were particularly useful,” she says of the online modules provided by Wiki Education. “It’s also pretty cool and unique to be able to share some of my classwork with friends and family just by sending them the link or telling them the phrase to look up.”

She found the experience valuable both for her current role as a student as well as her future career path. Science communication skills are core to any modern scientist, and this assignment helped her generate those.

“I would like to work as a professor someday, which involves educating students and typically public talks or outreach as well to some degree. In both cases it is important to be able to express and present scientific information in an accessible way. Because of this, the opportunity to practice scientific communication by writing for Wikipedia was valuable,” Ula says. “The assignment was both a great way of furthering my own understanding of what we covered in class, as well as expanding access to information about an important topic in origin of life research. I would be happy to contribute more to Wikipedia in future classes.”

Wiki Education’s support for instructors who want to with Wikipedia — including the trainings Ula highlights — are available at teach.wikiedu.org. Our support for STEM classes like Ula’s is available thanks to the Guru Krupa Foundation.


One thought on “Did life begin in a “warm little pond”? A student’s article lets you learn the science

  1. Excelente aporte de una estudiante que ya se perfila como una gran profesional comprometida como investigadora. La idea de ser profesora es admirable. Felicitaciones.

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