Friday, December 11, 2009

I'm Sensing a Trend

This time of year and the end of the decade often inspire list creation.  Examples of this activity include critics' top movie and music picks, as well as Time magazine's lists of everything, including the top ten scandals and the top ten blogs (I guess I am out).

So it was with some skepticism that I read about The Times (of London, not New York) Higher Education Supplement posting its list of the "Top Ten Chemists" of the last decade, as determined by citations per paper from the Thomson Reuters Essential Science Indicators. The "top chemist" (and we can debate the label based on citations, but that is another discussion) is Stephen Buchwald (MIT) with 171 papers and nearly 87 citations per paper.  Two of the other top ten are also organic chemists, including Nobel Laureate (2005) Robert Grubbs (Cal Tech).  This is excellent, and I congratulate these men (for all the top ten are men - again, this is another discussion).  But the truly remarkable aspect of this list (or is it?) is that the remaining 7 chemists all work in the nanoscience and nanotechnology arena.  With more than 1100 publications in the decade combined, these chemists include such well-known names as Chad Mirkin (Northwestern), George Whitesides (Harvard), and Georgia Tech's own Mostafa El-Sayed who comes in at #4 on the list with 112 papers and more than 75 citations per paper.

The fact that nanoscience is playing such a significant role in chemistry research, and the corollary that nanoscience research is dominated by the fields of chemistry, physics and their cousin materials science, is not news to Alan Porter and Jan Youtie who this past fall published an analysis of nanotechnology publication and citation data.  While nanoscience is certainly interdisciplinary (as is much of non-nano science these days), and there is neighborly sharing and borrowing of information and techniques, still there is considerable "local" character as well.

Are these observations characteristic of the ever changing nature of the research environment, or rather an artifact due to labeling and re-labeling of research areas using in vogue terminology to ensure optimum exposure and funding.  Will this be a long-lasting condition, or will the next research and technology revolution quickly replace it?  Only time will tell.

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