Chemistry, At the Highest Level

Featured Analyses, September/October 2011

Seeds are encased in acrylic poles used for the facade of the Seed Cathedral, the centerpiece of the UK Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo site, in Shanghai March 15, 2010. The 20-meter-high cube-like Seed Cathedral is covered by 60,000 slim, transparent acrylic rods, which will quiver in the breeze, according to the official website of Shanghai Expo. REUTERS/Aly Song.

by Christopher King

In advance of last January, two distinguished organizations—UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and IUPAC (the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry)—jointly proclaimed 2011 the International Year of Chemistry.

Before the rolling year slips away entirely, Science Watch© hereby contributes to the observance with a look at high-impact institutions in the broad field of chemistry over the last decade, along with an examination of some international trends over a slightly longer period.

The table (see Tab below) lists institutions according to two separate measures: in the left-hand column, by total citations, and, at right, by impact (citations per paper). The figures reflect papers published and cited between January of 2001 and April of 2011 in more than 500 Thomson Reuters-indexed journals representing the range of subfields in chemistry. The listings derive from the Essential Science IndicatorsSM, a database within the Thomson Reuters Web of Knowledge® platform.

Admittedly, this is a broad-brush treatment at a highly aggregated level. A smaller or more narrowly focused selection of journals, of course, would produce different listings. The aim here, however, is to identify some prominent players in the field as a whole.

graph 1
Percent of World Chemistry, 1991-2011

graph 2
Relative Impact in Chemistry

graph 3
Selected Nations: Relative Impact in Chemistry
SOURCE: Thomson Reuters Web of Knowledge®

The total-citations measure, as has been frequently noted in these pages, tends to favor large institutions that produce a high volume of research reports, and the accompanying table provides several examples, particularly in cases of organizations that contain many component institutions. Atop the citations listing, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, comprising nearly 100 separate research institutes, represents one such instance, as do the placements for large research agencies in Germany, Russia, France, Spain, and Japan.

Nevertheless, smaller institutions also emerge in the total-citations column—notably, the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. Despite the institute’s overall slant towards biomedicine, and a comparatively modest output of roughly 2,100 Thomson Reuters-indexed chemistry reports in the last decade, Scripps fielded several high-impact chem papers. The highest of these is a report on "click chemistry" from Scripps researcher and 2001 Nobel chemistry laureate K. Barry Sharpless and colleagues (H.S. Kolb, et al., Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 40[11]: 2004, 2001), now cited nearly 2,500 times. Thus, Scripps, with an average of nearly 42 cites per paper, tops the impact listing.

Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, MIT, and Georgia Tech also distinguish themselves with appearances on both lists.

Meanwhile, the graphs follow some larger trends in international publication over the last couple of decades. The topmost graph tracks shares of world chemistry papers between 1991 and 2010 from three main geographical entities: the United States, the principal 15 nations of the European Union, and Asia Pacific, including Japan and China. (View the Global Reseach Reports* from Thomson Reuters for more information).

As the graph shows, the European Union and the United States have both steadily surrendered world share in the course of the 20-year period, while the Asia Pacific group has climbed ever higher in its portion of world chemistry—from less than 20% in 1991 to nearly 45% in 2010. Powering this increase was China, whose annual output of Thomson-indexed chemistry papers increased from roughly 2,100 in 1991 to nearly 30,000 in 2010.

If the world-share graph seems to paint a comparatively dire picture for the United States and the European Union, the graph showing "relative impact" demonstrates that, in terms of the citation influence of published research, the two regions are still predominant. The citation impact for chemistry papers featuring U.S.-based authors, as tracked in overlapping five-year periods since 1987, comfortably surpasses the world average for the field (represented on the y-axis as 1.00), although the figures are trending downward in recent years: from 61% above the world chemistry average during the 2004-to-2008 period, to 58% above for papers published and cited between 2006 and 2010.

By contrast, the relative-impact mark for the European Union, although closer to the world average than the U.S. score, is on an upward trajectory. And while the Asia Pacific group, as a whole, has yet to attain the world average, it too is trending upward.

The final graph offers a more detailed look at relative impact, with a selection of individual nations. Mirroring the previous graph, the European representatives—Germany and the United Kingdom—are on the rise. Japan holds steady, having begun to surpass the world mark around the late 1990s. India tracks steadily upward. But it’s China that, despite sharing India’s start well below the world mark, appears to be on a particular upswing in recent years, showing itself yet again to be the nation to watch.End

Click tabs above to the Institutions in Chemistry table, and related information.

Institutions in Chemistry

(Listed by citations and citation impact)

Institution Citations
(>= 1,000 papers)
Chinese Academy of Sciences 357,682 Scripps Research Institute 41.70
Max Planck Society 213,801 Harvard University 36.76
University California, Berkeley 158,308 Rice University 34.44
Kyoto University 136,840 Caltech 34.02
University of Tokyo 128,672 Northwestern University 32.47
MIT 118,935 Arizona State University 31.81
CNRS (France) 117,297 MIT 31.04
Russian Academy of Sciences 109,256 University California, Berkeley 30.84
Harvard University 106,946 Stanford University 29.35
Northwestern University 100,676 Lawrence Berkeley National Lab 29.26
University of Illinois 94,037 Yale University 29.05
Japan Science & Technology Agency 91,870 University California, Los Angeles 27.08
Osaka University 90,188 Georgia Tech 26.94
AIST (Japan) 90,063 University of Washington 26.78
CSIC (Spain) 87,538 University California, Santa Barbara 26.65
Scripps Research Institute 87,441 University of Michigan 26.47
Stanford University 85,425 Carnegie Mellon University 26.27
ETH Zurich 84,410 Columbia University 25.75
University of Cambridge 83,672 University of Pennsylvania 23.94
Tohoku University 77,036 University of Utrecht 23.93
University of Michigan 75,158 University of Groningen 23.66
University of Minnesota 74,717 University of Chicago 23.57
University of Oxford 72,309 Queen’s University Belfast 23.45
Georgia Tech 72,148 Princeton University 22.92
Tokyo Institute of Technology 72,097 University Texas, Austin 22.86

SOURCE: Thomson Reuters Web of Knowledge®

Global Research Reports

Global Research Reports

Thomson Reuters launched the Global Research Report series to inform policymakers about the changing landscape of the global research base. Selected countries are profiled across scholarship production, emerging fields, global collaboration, and past/future trajectories. The Thomson Reuters data analysis allows a profiled nation to assess its position while offering other international players opportunity to evaluate and adapt their role to ongoing shifts in global research.

Download any report to review how sophisticated bibliometric analyses unearth some surprising trends in research and international networks. View Global Research Reports



Keywords: Chemistry, research in chemistry, high-impact chemistry, International Year of Chemistry, Scripps Research Institute, world chemistry.

Featured Image: Seeds are encased in acrylic poles used for the facade of the Seed Cathedral, the centerpiece of the UK Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo site, in Shanghai March 15, 2010. The 20-meter-high cube-like Seed Cathedral is covered by 60,000 slim, transparent acrylic rods, which will quiver in the breeze, according to the official website of Shanghai Expo. REUTERS/Aly Song.

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