Locating Nanotechnology Among the Disciplines

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Porter, Alan L.
Youtie, Jan L.
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Nanoscience and nanotechnology ("nano") has been described as the ultimate interdisciplinary research area. Mihail Roco and others have set forth policy discourse through their notion that nano enables the convergence of disciplines under the rubric of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive sciences ("NBIC"). However, some observers are more skeptical, suggesting that nano serves as a term for multiple, but perhaps unconnected, research endeavors. For example Schummer's (2004) analysis of 600 nanotechnology publications in 2002 and 2003 finds that research collaboration patterns in nanotechnology do not significantly differ from those of traditional disciplinary research and concludes that nanotechnology appears to be an aggregate of unconnected mono-disciplines.[2] Despite these polar positions, it is widely believed that understanding the nature and characteristics of disciplinary relationships within nano research is important, with the potential to influence science policy, research management, and the conduct of research. Research Question This paper will address two questions: (1) how broadly does nano engage various disciplines or research areas? And (2) to what extent does nanotechnology research integrate research knowledge from multiple disciplines? Methods This analysis is based on a bibliometric analysis of the journal subject categories (SCs) provided by Institute for Scientific Information (ISI). The data source used in this analysis draws on a set of nano publications that were identified using a multi-stage modular Boolean search strategy of Web of Science (WOS) Science Citation Index (SCI) publications from 1990 to 2008. This strategy is described in Porter et al (2008). [3] The multidisciplinary aspects of these publications are assessed through three approaches: (1) by placing them in an overlay map to the map of science developed by Leydesdorff and Rafols (2008) [4]; (2) by examining the SCs in the cited references of these articles, and (3) by examining how the multidisciplinary attributes of these nano publications compare to those of other traditional disciplines by using a measure of disciplinary integration which ranges from 0 (stand alone discipline that does not cite work from other disciplines) to 1 (highly integrated discipline that fully cites work from other disciplines). Preliminary Results A preliminary analysis of a sample of nano papers yields findings that both support and cast uncertainty on conventional beliefs about the interdisciplinary nature of nanotechnology. Initial results suggest that nano papers do in fact encompass a wide range of disciplines as measured by the journal SC. Moreover, we do find evidence of a considerable presence of multiple SCs in the cited references of samples of nano publications in our nano dataset. This finding suggests that nano researchers do possess considerable knowledge of research activities in multiple disciplines, and the findings of these activities inform and move their research forward. This conclusion is limited by the use of journal publications as the database, but it does indicate a future research direction in that qualitative and ethnographic studies of laboratory behavior could use multidisciplinary behaviors as a lense for examining nanoscientists' research activity. When we compare the multidisciplinary activity of nano to that of more traditional disciplines, using an integration score, we find that nano is highly multidisciplinary but so are other comparator disciplines. The exception is mathematics which appears to be more of a stand alone discipline that tends to cite other work in mathematics. In summary the results suggest that nano does possess multidisciplinary characteristics. However so many fields in science writ large. Recognizing and fostering these characteristics will be important for continued development of nanotechnology. [1] Roco, M. C., and Bainbridge, W.S. Converging technologies for improving human performance: Nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science (Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, 2003); Roco, M. C. Journal of Nanoparticle Research 10 (1), 11-29 (2008). [2] Schummer, J., Multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, and patterns of research collaboration in nanoscience and nanotechnology, Scientometrics, 59, 425-465 (2004). [3] Porter, A.L., Youtie, J., Shapira, P., and Schoeneck, D.J., Refining Search Terms for Nanotechnology, Journal of Nanoparticle Research, Vol. 10 (5), 715-728, 2008. [4] LEYDESDORFF, L. AND RAFOLS, I. (Forthcoming) A Global Map of Science Based on the ISI Subject Categories. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. Preprint [http://users.fmg.uva.nl/lleydesdorff/map06/texts/map06.pdf].
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