China's piece of the nano pie

In Chinese nano-science, all growth curves are exponential

By Andrew Leonard
Published September 21, 2006 6:13PM (EDT)

In 1999 United States scientists authored roughly 50 percent of the papers published in the journal Nanotechnology. Chinese scientists were responsible for roughly zero. Five years later, the U.S. share had fallen to about 25 percent, and China had risen to a little over 15 percent -- making China second behind the United States.

Similar, if less striking results arise if one expands the set of publications to the three "core Nano-journals" that have emerged since 2002. But perhaps the most interesting chart comes when you review the results for 85 "nano-relevant" journals in the fields of chemistry, physics and material sciences, over the last six years. While the trend lines for most countries are even, or decline slightly, China's proceeds on a steady exponential rise.

Lastly, in 2004, China's world share of all science journal articles was about 6.52 percent, but its world share in nano-relevant publications was 8.34 percent.

All these facts and figures come from the forthcoming paper, "The Emergence of China as a Leading Nation in Science."

The topic is one that's received quite a bit of attention in recent years. On the one hand, observers look at the statistics on the numbers of engineers graduating from Chinese universities or the number of patents issued to Chinese scientists and start waving their arms and howling, "The Chinese are coming, the Chinese are coming." To which there has been an equal and opposite reaction, pointing out that the quality of all those engineers may be less than desired and the patents aren't so hot either. So don't worry, be happy, the U.S. and the E.U. are still the world leaders in science and technology and it will be a long time before the Chinese catch up, if ever.

But this new "scientometric" analysis by authors Ping Zhou and Loet Leydesdorff offers some hard data that deepens the debate. It's not just that, in the realm of science in China, "all growth curves are exponential." The relatively disproportionate success of Chinese scientists at the very forefront of nanotechnological research is a strong hint that China is making significant gains where it is likely to count the most for future industrial and technological development.

So yeah, the Chinese are coming.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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China Globalization How The World Works Science