China leads the world in four out of 11 frontier areas of academic research, with major improvements to clinical medicine, astronomy and astrophysics in the past five years, according to the annual report released on Tuesday by the Institutes of Science and Development of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and global analytics firm, Clarivate.
The report titled Research Fronts 2022 identified 110 "especially active" and 55 emerging research fronts that are categorized into 11 broad scientific areas based on data from highly cited papers published from 2016 to 2021.
On the Research Leadership Index, the United States scored the highest in seven out of the 11 broad categories this year, namely geosciences, clinical medicine, biological sciences, astronomy and astrophysics, mathematics, information science and economics, and psychology and other social sciences.
China topped the remaining four frontier scientific areas — agricultural, plant and animal sciences, ecological and environmental sciences, chemistry and materials science, and physics.
China's global rankings in clinical medicine and astronomy and astrophysics have seen major improvement over the past five years, the report said. Its rank in clinical medicine climbed from 13th on the index in 2018 to 4th this year, while it ranked 7th in astronomy and astrophysics against 19th five years ago.
Among the 165 research fronts, the US is most active in 79 and China in 52. The two countries together led nearly 80 percent of all research fronts.
Chemistry and materials science has emerged as China's most prolific and advantageous field, with the country leading in 10 out of the 13 research topics in this category. Ecological and environmental sciences came in second, with China topping eight out of 12 topics.
Gao Hongjun, vice-president of the CAS, said that China would expand openness and cooperation in science and technology, and find new solutions to global challenges with the international scientific community.
Pan Jiaofeng, president of the Institutes of Science and Development, CAS, said that researchers had identified eight scientific trends this year based on further analysis of the report.
The key trends are using artificial intelligence to aid studies; COVID-19 as a strong driver for research; breakthroughs in geosciences are the main pillars for supporting energy security in the foreseeable future; and solving food security and public health issues requires major open scientific projects in gene technologies.
"At present, different scientific disciplines are crossing paths, with breakthroughs in basic sciences — from materials science to life sciences," Pan said. "We need more objective and continuous evaluation of quality scientific research, so that science and technology policymakers can plan future research directions."