Seventh annual Research Fronts report highlights hot and emerging fields

To examine fast-moving and emerging specialty areas of science, Clarivate has again partnered with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to produce a report highlighting notably dynamic areas of research. The latest annual installment, Research Fronts 2020, marks the seventh collaboration between the two organizations.


Like its predecessors, Research Fronts 2020 bases its findings on Research Fronts, which are self-organizing clusters of related research identified by citation analysis. Research Fronts form when clusters of highly cited papers are frequently cited together. This pattern of “co-citation,” as it’s known, indicates that the papers share a cognitive link or point of commonality, such as a concept or hypothesis, experimental data, or method. With the co-cited papers serving as a foundational “core,” the other element in the Research Front is made up of the subsequent papers that cite the core.


A dynamic view

Notably, the identification of Research Fronts does not depend on the judgements of human indexers or analysts, but rather on the actions of scientists themselves, when they decide the most pertinent and significant work to cite. In this way, Research Fronts provide a more “organic” perspective on how specialty areas form, grow, branch out, merge with other disciplines and, possibly, dissipate, as new citation-based groupings come to the fore.

This dynamic view of the research landscape is invaluable in providing knowledge and foresight to policymakers and administrators in governmental, academic and commercial settings, and to anyone with an interest in the latest areas of concentration and activity in science.


“Research Fronts provide an organic perspective on how specialty areas form, grow, branch out, merge with other disciplines and possibly, dissipate, as new citation-based groupings come to the fore.”


As in past reports, analysts from the Institute of Science and Development and the National Science Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences collaborated with bibliometric experts from the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI)™ at Clarivate on the new report. Together they turned to the Essential Science Indicators™ (ESI) database, which is built on the foundation of the Web of Science index.

Analysts first consolidated the 22 subject fields in ESI into 11 broad specialty areas. Starting with 11,626 Research Fronts, representing papers published and cited between 2014 and 2019, the next step was to select the fronts containing core literature that is both highly cited and recent – a measure of particularly active and fast-moving research.

Ultimately, the analysis produced 110 fronts that are especially active, or “hot,” as well as 38 emerging fronts, with the latter selected on the basis of notably recent core literature.


“The analysis produced 110 fronts that are especially active, or ‘hot,’ as well as 38 emerging fronts.”


In addition to listing all 148 Research Fronts across the 11 specialty areas, the report’s discipline-based chapters include detailed examinations of selected fronts, including rankings of notable nations and institutions whose contributions are central to each front’s core and citing literature.


A vast range

Needless to say, the Research Fronts encompass a vast range of specialties and topics, reflecting both science and the social sciences. In chemistry, for example, one front examines pure organic room-temperature phosphorescent materials, which are under intense study for use in organic light-emitting diodes, biological imaging and information storage, among other applications; Mainland China is notably active in this field.

Meanwhile, a Research Front in biological science concentrates on astrocytes, which non-neuronal cells in the brain and spinal cord. The front explores the role of astrocytes in neurodegenerative disease, brain injury and other conditions.

In in the field of agriculture, plant and animal sciences, a new concentration in the sub-field of food science is exemplified by a front involving research on smart packaging materials for food.

Other interesting findings include the cross-disciplinary reach of artificial intelligence (AI). In clinical medicine, for example, AI has been harnessed in diagnostic imaging, while, among the fronts devoted to economics, psychology and other social sciences, AI is also finding utility in supply chain management.


Fields and regions

Released concurrently with Research Fronts 2020 is the updated version of another yearly report: Active Fields and Leading Countries. This report provides a deeper view of Research Front activity, including extensive and nuanced metrics on regional and institutional performance in the 2020 fronts. One evident theme is Mainland China’s increasing presence and influence in fields such as chemistry and materials science.


Download Research Fronts 2020 and Active Fields and Leading Countries to learn more.