Top research fronts in materials science

Data provided by Thomson Reuters from its Essential Science Indicators, 2006-2010

June 23, 2011

On 26 June, more than 2,500 researchers from around the world will gather in Singapore for the sixth biennial International Conference on Materials for Advanced Technologies (ICMAT 2011), sponsored by the Materials Research Society of Singapore.

The conference schedule includes 40 symposia and nine plenary lectures delivered by scientists including Nobel laureates Albert Fert, Andre Geim, Klaus von Klitzing and Ada Yonath. Many of the symposia, which will cover nanoscience, energy, functional materials, bio/soft materials, imaging, crystal growth and interdisciplinary topics, can be mapped directly to the specialty areas that appear in the table above.

The table presents the top 20 research fronts in materials science ranked by total citations, the data for which were extracted from the current edition of Thomson Reuters Essential Science Indicators database. In all, 438 research fronts in materials science are listed in the database, representing 6.6 per cent of the 6,641 research fronts in all fields of the sciences and social sciences.

A research front is an active specialty or subspecialty area of investigation. Research fronts are created by first identifying highly cited papers – those that rank by their citations in the top 1 per cent of their field according to their year of publication – published during the past five years. After identifying the highly cited papers in a field, all the papers that cite the highly cited papers are collected and a co-citation analysis of the cited papers is performed.

When two papers are frequently co-cited, it is possible to begin to form a cluster of related research, or a research front. Co-citation analysis is an iterative process in which cited papers are found to be closely associated. Some research fronts are built around just two or a handful of papers, whereas others, because of frequent co-citation, can have up to 50 related cited papers, or core papers. In the end, the research front consists of a number of core papers and many more citing papers that link the core papers together.

It is important to recognise that the research fronts are not chosen or defined by information analysts but rather by researchers themselves through the references they add to their papers. As such, research fronts reflect the informed judgment of experts. The research fronts are constantly changing in size and in content, according to progress in research. With each update, some die away while others emerge. These research fronts therefore represent a kind of contemporary commentary on the structure of science itself as determined by the global research community.

This ranking of research fronts by total citations reveals specialties of exceptional current activity. Also provided in the table for each research front is the average number of citations per core paper, or citation impact, as well as a score labelled “average year core”, which is the mean year of the core papers in each front. A research front with a relatively recent average-year score indicates that the foundation literature of the front is turning over quickly and suggests that the area is an emerging or hot topic.

The hot area of graphene research is represented in two fronts (numbers 1 and 6), as is research on solar cells (2 and 4) and on mesoporous materials (14 and 18). The inherently multidisciplinary nature of materials science is apparent in the list, which even includes fronts related to biomedicine (10, 14 and 17).

For more information, see

 Research frontCore papersCitationsCitation impactAverage year core
1Electronic properties of graphene6 9,5241,587.332005.6
2Polymer solar cells156,656 443.732007.2
3Multiferroic and magnetoelectric materials 316,509209.972006.4
4Titanium dioxide nanotube arrays in dye-sensitised solar cells475,645120.112007.1
5ATRP and click chemistry in polymer synthesis345,129150.852006.4
6Graphene oxide sheets164,815300.942007.0
7Superhydrophobic surfaces474,732100.682007.0
8High-Tc ferromagnetism in zinc oxide diluted magnetic semiconductors 484,66797.232006.5
9Highly selective fluorescent chemosensors464,58199.592007.2
10Electrospun nanofibrous scaffolds for tissue engineering 454,577101.712006.3
11Ductile bulk metallic glasses414,267104.072006.7
12Single-molecule magnets474,01385.382007.2
13Self-assembling supramolecular nanostructured gel-phase materials333,810115.452007.3
14Mesoporous silica nanoparticles for drug delivery and biosensing applications343,693108.622007.0
15Mechanical properties of nanocrystalline metals453,68281.822007.1
16Discotic liquid crystals for organic semiconductors303,637121.232006.7
17Gold nanorods for imaging and plasmonic photothermal therapy of tumour cells213,506166.952006.4
18Highly ordered mesoporous polymer and carbon frameworks253,362134.482006.8
19Upconversion fluorescent rare-earth nanocrystals493,35168.392007.9
20Molecular logic circuits473,31570.532008.0

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