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  • China 'encroaches on US nanotech lead'


Chinese researchers are second in the world in nanotechnology, according to an unpublished report by a Dutch-Chinese research team.

The study compared the research positions of several countries and regions, including the United States, the European Union, China and South Korea, in terms of the number of papers published in nanotechnology journals.

The unpublished version of the report, which has been submitted to the journal Research Policy, has been posted on the website of research leader Loet Leydesdorff of the Amsterdam School of Communications Research.

The findings loosely corroborate the conclusions of a report the US President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) is preparing.

According to the Washington Post, a preview of the PCAST findings shows that Europe and Asia are gaining fast on the US lead in the field. The document will be published this month.

It reportedly shows that the US government's 2004 funding lead in nanotechnology was only slightly ahead of China, Europe and Japan: while the US government spent US$1 billion on nanotechnology research the other three each spent about US$900 million.

Leydesdorff and co-author Ping Zhou measured the contribution of Chinese researchers to global research in nanotechnology by assessing the number of papers they published in specialist journals.

They first looked at three core nanotechnology journals: Nanotechnology, Journals of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, and Nano Letters.

The authors found that in 2004, Chinese authors contributed ten per cent of papers to these journals, placing them second behind US researchers. With nearly 50 per cent of papers, however, the United States was a clear leader.

"This is an excellent study showing that China — and South Korea — have emerged as international players on the scientific scene," says Ronald Rousseau, a researcher at the Katholieke Hogeschool Brugge-Oostende in Ostend, Belgium.

Along with Jin Bihui of the Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Rousseau has also been investigating China's position in global research.

He notes that while Leydesdorff's findings confirm his own, the two teams came to different conclusions regarding the future of Chinese research.

While optimistic about China's future, Rousseau told SciDev.Net that Chinese research papers on nanotechnology are still cited less frequently by other scientists than papers from industrialised countries.

"Zhou and Leydesdorff stress the fact that the efficiency of the Chinese system is increasing, and for that reason are even more optimistic," says Rousseau. "Yet they also admit that there is an urgent need for higher visibility among Chinese publications."

"As citations are usually considered to be a measure for visibility, this amounts to the same thing we are saying — namely, that the ratio of citations over publications must increase in order for China to become a major player on the scientific scene," he adds.

Zhou and Leydesdorff also looked at 115 other journals related to nanotechnology. With just under ten per cent of publications, China placed fourth in this category, behind the United States (one-third of publications), Japan (14 per cent) and Germany (ten per cent).

However, their analysis indicates that while the number of publications from other countries, including the United States, have been declining slightly, China and South Korea have been gradually increasing their contributions since 1998.

This does not correspond to PCAST's conclusions. Using different indicators, the group found that US nanotech publications have been steadily increasing since 1991.

Link paper by Zhou and Leydesdorff
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