Innovations in Science: China Changing the Face of Global Research

On December 10 when this year’s Nobel Prize winners assemble in Stockholm for the annual award ceremony, there is one particular Laureate in the science categories whose award may very well signal the start of a trend.

Youyou Tu, of the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Beijing, is one of the co-winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in medicine for her work in “discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria”. Born in Ningbo, Zhejiang, China in 1930, she has no postgraduate degree (it was not offered in China prior to 1979), has not had any overseas research or study experiences and is not a member of any Chinese national academies. Indeed she is the first winner of a Nobel science prize to have spent all her life and career in China.

Tu’s accomplishments are certainly laudable in themselves but more to the point is the symbolism of the emergence of Chinese research on the global stage and its impact on the research landscape in the years to come. According to Scopus data, China is a highly prolific source of research output. In the decade from 2004 to 2014 China’s research output has grown more than 400 percent. By comparison, global output during the same period grew 70 percent and in the US, the output increased a little over 30 percent.

China’s position as a major player in the international economy is not new by any means. Many global companies have relocated their manufacturing operations there and the country sits on vast natural resources. This may have some bearing on China’s research output by journal category where electrical and mechanical engineering and computer science dominate. The Journal Rare Earths Industry estimates that China possesses 40 percent of total global reserves of rare —> Read More