Washington, Aug 3: China is slowly and steadily becoming one of the world's prominent scientific powerhouses, with an astonishing increase in journal papers written by scientists in the country. It has already overtaken the UK and Germany in the number of physics papers published and is beginning to nip at the heels of the United States.
If China's output continues to increase at its current pace, the country will be publishing more articles in physics - and indeed all of science - than the US by 2012. Nanoscience, quantum computing and high-temperature superconductivity are three of the cutting-edge areas of physics that have seen particularly large increases.
Published journal articles in nanoscience, for example, with at least one co-author based in China, have seen a 10-fold increase since the beginning of the millennium, rising to more than 10,500 in 2007.
China are currently a long way from the national citation top spot, ranked in 65th for physics, just ahead of Kuwait, with an average of 4.12 citations for each of the papers published.
According to Werner Marx, an information scientist from the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart, Germany, "The figure is still quite impressive, and I estimate this will rise substantially in the next few years."
All indications suggest that China's propensity for world-leading research is growing.
In March this year, scientists in Japan first reported a new class of iron-based superconducting material that can conduct electricity without resistance when cooled to below 26 Kelvin (K).
Researchers in China quickly picked up the baton and, within a month of the initial Japanese discovery, had boosted the transition temperature at which the material loses all its electrical resistance to 52 K.
According to Marx, "China has become a notable factor in the scientific landscape. Usually, scientific development in nations does not show such a strong acceleration as we have seen in China, so it will be interesting to see how it responds and develops in the future."