China becomes a physics powerhouse

Aug 01, 2008

Judged by the astonishing increase in journal papers written by scientists in China, there can be little doubt that China is finding its place as one of the world's scientific power houses. Michael Banks, Physics World's News Editor, quantifies this surge in scientific output from China and asks whether quality matches quantity in August's Physics World.

Nanoscience, quantum computing and high-temperature superconductivity are three of the cutting-edge areas of physics that have seen particularly large increases. Published journal articles in nanoscience, for example, with at least one co-author based in China, have seen a 10-fold increase since the beginning of the millennium, rising to more than 10,500 in 2007.

China has already overtaken the UK and Germany in the number of physics papers published and is beginning to nip at the heels of the United States. If China's output continues to increase at its current pace, the country will be publishing more articles in physics - and indeed all of science - than the US by 2012.

Quantity alone however is not enough. The number of times a journal paper is cited by other academics in their own journal papers is often used as a guide to journal papers' quality. Unfortunately for China, they are currently a long way from the national citation top spot, ranked in 65th for physics, just ahead of Kuwait, with an average of 4.12 citations for each of the papers published.

As China has only just started to publish large volumes of work, it is not a fair reflection. Werner Marx, an information scientist from the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart, Germany, who carried out a bibliometric study for the Physics World article, said, "The figure is still quite impressive, and I estimate this will rise substantially in the next few years."

All indications suggest that China's propensity for world-leading research is growing. In March this year scientists in Japan first reported a new class of iron-based superconducting material that can conduct electricity without resistance when cooled to below 26 Kelvin (K). Researchers in China quickly picked up the baton and, within a month of the initial Japanese discovery, had boosted the transition temperature at which the material loses all its electrical resistance to 52 K.

Werner Marx said, "China has become a notable factor in the scientific landscape. Usually scientific development in nations does not show such a strong acceleration as we have seen in China, so it will be interesting to see how it responds and develops in the future."

Source: Institute of Physics

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User comments : 9

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5 / 5 (5) Aug 01, 2008
Not Cited where? I'm sure the Chinese cite each other quite a bit... If cited only by other countries I can kind of understand the low rank - who can read it?!

I'm sure they'll over take us before 2012. I think the Olympics and the eye on China has really spurred them into action.

Personally I welcome any advances in the field from any country. So many great advancements are right within our grasp yet they simple don't get funded properly and we languish.
4.7 / 5 (3) Aug 01, 2008
I second earls on that one. It's about time we stopped partitioning ourselves up into little pieces and pulled together for the causes of science.

Maybe competition helps in some cases, but having identical space missions from different countries, just as a "we can do that too" publicity stunt? Come on.
2.5 / 5 (2) Aug 01, 2008
Nothing new here, chinese scientists have been at it for thousands of years. Now they're capitalist government thinks it's good to publish in Western journals. So the west thinks they are doing more science. Really the only different thing they are doing is a slightly better job at writing English.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 01, 2008
Indeed earls, I don't care where advancements come from, as long as they come hard and fast.
5 / 5 (2) Aug 01, 2008
I'm curious about quantity x quality
(i.e. total citation) ranking. I think that would have been a more meaningful stat.
2 / 5 (4) Aug 02, 2008
Those papers, collectively, are barely a blip in terms of importance. About as important as the scientific contribution of Kuwait, as the article imples. I.e., next to nothing. The article's overall statement is that China is producing a lot of crap papers for the purposes of prestige. That's entirely consistent with an oppressive, corrupt regime.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 02, 2008
Yes, unless we are from a totally different species of human rulers on this earth, advances from anyone, at anytime in any country is welcomed.
not rated yet Aug 03, 2008
No one remembers Jun Lao? If not typical then stereotypical/iconic.
not rated yet Aug 04, 2008
China has been more influential in steering students into the sciences that America. It seems to me this should eventually make them a true powerhouse in science. In fact a disproportionate number of American scientists are Chinese. Many were born in China or Hong Kong and came to the U. S. to American universities for their college education. What I am finding interesting is that those Chinese scientists seem to be more productive than Chinese scientists that study and stay in China. Is it the education or is it the open and free-thinking of U.S. educated Chinese that makes the difference? Would love to hear the opinion of a Chinese U.S. educated scientist.

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