UK physics research surpasses the US in average quality ranking

20 February 2012 | Source: Bibliometric evaluation and international benchmarking of the UK’s physics research

While countries around the world invest in their physics bases to help them compete internationally, a new report commissioned by the Institute of Physics (IOP) shows that the UK’s physics community can boast the production of some of the world’s highest quality physics research.

Although the UK is ranked seventh in a list of key competitor countries for the quantity of its physics research output – measured by the number of papers published – the UK is second only to Canada, and now higher than the US, when ranked on the average quality of the UK’s physics research output – measured by the average number of times research papers are cited around world.

The new report, Bibliometric evaluation and international benchmarking of the UK’s physics research, produced by Evidence, a Thomson Reuters company, records the remarkable growth in physics research output in countries such as China where – from a 8% share in the world’s physics research papers in 2001 – more than 18% of the world’s physics research papers were produced in 2010.

As the BRICK countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Korea – now undertake a far greater proportion of the world’s physics research, the G7 countries – the USA, Canada, Germany, France, the UK, Italy and Japan – have seen their global share in physics research output decline.

For the UK, however, its proportionate decrease in output – from 7.1% of the world’s physics research in 2001 to 6.4% in 2010 – has been accompanied by a celebratory increase in overall, average quality – with the average number of citations of UK research papers rising from 1.24 in 2001 to 1.72 in 2010.

Professor Sir Peter Knight, President of IOP, said, “This remarkable rise in average citations reflects the prestige with which UK physics research is regarded around the world. 

“One particularly interesting indicator of UK success stems from a comparison to the US’s citation score. Over the past 10 years, the UK has either languished shortly behind the US or, in better years, been level. In 2010, however, we took a very encouraging lead on the US when the physics community’s research output is looked at as a whole.”

While in 2001 the UK scored 1.24 for citation impact against the world-leading US’s citation impact of 1.58, by 2010 the US’s still significant citation impact of 1.6. was surpassed by the UK’s citation impact of 1.72.

Sir Peter continued, “This should give the UK great cause for celebration – and our Canadian friends even more so – but other aspects detailed in the report, particularly the growth of China’s science base, sound a warning shot and should keep us from complacency. 

“Countries around the world are investing in their physics base in order to gain advantage in an increasingly global economy.  First comes the building of capacity in fast-developing countries such as China and India, but a focus on quality is bound to follow. 

“This brave new world offers wonderful opportunities for international collaboration but it also raises the spectre of challenges to the UK’s international reputation for scientific excellence; a challenge we must be ready to take on.”

Related information


Bibliometric evaluation and international benchmarking of the UK’s physics research

This report analyses the performance of UK Physics research

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