Related News from STS

MIT’s STS Program is pleased to announce that it has awarded the 2020 Benjamin Siegel Writing Prize to Jesse Gordon, for his essay “The Coronavirus Chronicles: Emergence of a Global Pandemic.” Gordon is a fourth-year doctoral student in Professor Gabriela Schlau-Cohen’s group in the Department of Chemistry.

Link to the essay: “The Coronavirus Chronicles: Emergence of a Global Pandemic.”

Each year MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society offers the Benjamin Siegel Writing Prize to the MIT student submitting the best written work (under 50 pages) on issues in science, technology, and society. The Prize was established in 1990 by family and friends to honor the memory of Benjamin Siegel, S.B. 1938, Ph.D. The $2500 Prize is open to undergraduate and graduate students at MIT from any department or school. This year’s selection committee is composed of David Mindell and Rosalind Williams.

Here’s how the selection committee described the winning paper:

“Among the entries, Gordon’s essay is unique for its two voices. The text opens in the first-person as account of the graduate student recalling when, barely two months ago, he first realized, “the gravity of the situation” of the novel coronavirus outbreak, through an email sent through his group’s messaging system. Then the text shifts to a third-person description of the medical symptoms and mortality rates of the new disease we now know as COVID-19. The rest of the essay continues to alternate between the voice of scientific inquiry and that of personal experience.

Jesse Gordon told us that he first considered writing this personal account as a way of coming to terms with the “surreal” events that were unfolding so quickly. After hearing about the Siegel competition, he considered writing a submission about the coronavirus as a research topic, which would challenge him to learn more about virology, immunology, and medical science. Eventually he decided to do both: “I wanted to distill the scientific literature into a form that would be understandable to a general audience, as well as write about my first-hand perspective.”

Readers will be drawn by this portrayal of MIT as a place where academic inquiry and community awareness develop interactively and simultaneously. By honoring “The Coronavirus Chronicles” with the Siegel Writing Prize, we hope to encourage other MIT students to imagine broad audiences for their writing.  Jesse Gordon’s essay has already been published by his department as part of a quarantine diaries series.  It has contributed to the MIT Libraries Distinctive Collection project, which is assembling original materials related to COVID-19.  “The Coronavirus Chronicles” is a timely, compelling statement reminding us all that science and humanity are inseparable.”

Congratulations to Jesse Gordon for his prize-winning essay, and my thanks to Roz Williams and David Mindell for serving as the faculty representatives on this year’s STS Committee on Honors and Prizes.