Stanford University School of Medicine
The Robert G. Fenley Writing Awards: Basic Science Staff Writing - Bronze
The late Ben Barres, MD, PhD, a Stanford neuroscientist, bent on identifying a toxic substance secreted by rogue brain cells and implicated in several major neurological disorders, died before finding it. Shortly before his death, Barres regretted out loud that he wouldn’t live long enough to untangle a brain mystery that had puzzled him for years. But his team stayed together after his death and worked together long enough — four more years — to finish the search he’d set in motion. And they credited Barres posthumously with senior authorship of their Nature study.
What was the most impactful part of your entry?
In addition to being a great scientist, Barres was a first-rate mentor. By the time he died in late 2017, Barres had determinedly nailed down financial support and good landing places for all his postdoctoral and graduate student trainees. He was rewarded posthumously with a display of loyalty he surely would have appreciated.
What challenge did you overcome?
Goldman wanted to highlight the seldom-touted emotional, human side of scientific research, recounting how Barres’ trainees, carrying their mentor’s torch, worked diligently to publish a paper that would stand as homage to his scientific legacy.
By the time Nature accepted this story for publication, the lead author and Barres’ co-senior author had moved on to positions at other universities, leaving no Stanford-based living lead or senior authors. Stanford Medicine News Center policy, therefore, ruled out a news release, despite the scientific value of the finding. But the human story behind the scientific one made it an excellent candidate for coverage on Stanford Medicine’s blog site. Goldman chose to tell that story while simultaneously providing a history of the scientific exploration leading to the newly published discovery.