September 16, 2009: It has been generally understood that "nanotechnology" finds a home among a wide range of industries and applications. Now, Georgia Tech researchers have mapped out what that universe looks like and how nanotech work is interrelated.
In a paper published in the September issue of Nature Nanotechnology, researchers Alan Porter and Jan Youtie set out to show that nanotech research is hardly a "a collection of isolated 'stove pipes' drawing knowledge from one narrow discipline, but rather is quite interdisciplinary," Porter notes. In fact, "research in any one category of nanoscience and nanotechnology tends to cite research in many other categories."
Their study, analyzing abstracts of >30,000 "nano"-themed papers published in >6000 journals during a six-month period (Jan-July 2008), identifies a strong affinity for materials science, physics (applied and condensed matter), and chemistry (physical and multidisciplinary, but also contributions from fields including clinical/biomedicine and physics, and one deemed "nanoscience and nanotechnology." More than one million references were cited in all, averaging (mean) 33 per paper.
|The position of nanoscience and nanotechnology over a base map of science. Each node is one of 175 subject categories in the SCI database, and the size of the node is proportional to the number of nanopapers published. (Source: Georgia Tech)|
Applying text mining, they found 45 subject categories cited by ≥5% of nanopapers, and 98 categories cited by at least 1%. Of the 3863 "nanopapers" in the "nanoscience and nanotechnology" category, 86% cited papers in materials science; another 80 subject categories had 40 or more cited papers each. More than 800 nanopapers in electrical engineering cited papers in journals from 138 different subject categories, while 435 nanopapers in organic chemistry cited papers in journals from 140 different subject categories, they found. They further calculated an "integration score" to gauge the interdisciplinary nature of a particular paper or set of papers -- zero for standalone disciplines, to a score of one for highly integrated, heavily-cross-citing disciplines. Not surprisingly, Nanoscience/Nanotechnology rated high (0.65), better than electrical engineering (0.60) and organic chemistry (0.64).
|The fields of science cited by nanotechnology papers. (Source: Georgia Tech)|
"Our results show the multidisciplinary nature of research in nanoscience and nanotechnology," though it also shows such interdisciplinary knowledge-sharing happens in a lot of other areas, Porter said. It also shows that nanotech research is concentrated into "macrodisciplines" e.g., materials science and chemistry, with references to similar fields.
"There is a broad perspective that most scientific breakthroughs occur at the interstices among more established fields," and nanotech is believed to be just such a convergence area, added Youtie. "If nanotechnology does have a strong multidisciplinary character, attention to communication across disciplines will be an important feature in its emergence."
Future examination of this topic will explore how R&D patterns can forecast commercialization; societal implications of nanoscience/nanotechnology to preemptively mitigate negative efforts; suggest corporate strategies for nanoscience/nanotech efforts; and identify regional "nanodistrict" hotspots of nanoscience R&D with clustered research and commercial efforts.