China looks set to overtake the US in scientific output as soon at 2013, according to a major study by the Royal Society.


This map shows two crude measures of scientific excellence: the number of academic papers published by each country, and how each nation’s universities are ranked, a reflection of the quality of scientific research.

To compile the global league table of the top 500 institutions, several indicators of research performance are evaluated, including the number of highly cited researchers, the prevalence of articles published in respected journals Science and Nature, and the number of Nobel laureates each country produced.



The reigning champ

With eight of the world’s top 10 universities (and 54 of the top 100), the US remains the global leader when it comes to science and innovation. It continues to produce pioneering research in almost every field, though it is particularly strong in medicine, biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology, all of which support a thriving biotechnology scene.


United Kingdom

The surprise package

With two universities – Oxford and Cambridge – in the top 10 (and 11 in the top 100), Britain punches above its weight. Recent figures show that the average number of citations gained by British research papers, a good measure of quality, is now almost as high as the US. Continued international collaboration will help the UK maintain its position for some years yet.

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The fading veteran

Political turmoil, a brain drain, and a waning interest have transformed Russia from a science superpower – the nation that launched the first satellite and the first man into space – into an increasingly minor player. Russia has struggled to maintain its output and slipped back in areas like physics and space science, historically its core strengths.



The specialist

Another of the emerging economic powers to have identified science as crucial to future prosperity, Brazil is investing heavily in research. Known to be strong in agricultural and biological sciences, including biofuel production. But like other developing countries, it needs to persuade more private companies to invest in science.



The one-time contender

Once tipped as the most likely threat to US dominance, India has failed to keep pace with China. It contributes less than three per cent of global research output, lagging behind many less populous countries. That said, it’s still a dramatic rise and many experts expect India to exert a growing influence in future.



The rising force

China’s scientific output has grown at a phenomenal rate in the last decade. It’s now second only to the US in terms of quantity of publications, although there’s still a vast gulf in terms of quality – it has no universities in the top 100. Strong in chemistry, physics, engineering and materials sciences, China is seeing growth in molecular biology and nanoscience.



The steady campaigner

Japan’s output has stayed largely flat over the last decade, though it does boast some high-ranking institutions and enjoys a reputation for excellence in physics. Experts agree that Japan needs to collaborate more with other countries in the Far East to progress and improve its research performance.


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