Nobel Winners Stimulate Research

PHILADELPHIA-The Nobel Prizes are not the result of an election among scientists for "best scientist of the year."

By Alexander Grimwade | November 17, 1986

PHILADELPHIA-The Nobel Prizes are not the result of an election among scientists for "best scientist of the year."

But practicing scientists do pass judgment of a kind when they cite other scientists' work in their papers or build on that work to move into a new research area.

By that yardstick, this year's laureates are worthy recipients of the prizes from the Swedish Academy of Sciences. All the winners have published work that has been highly cited by their peers and which has led to important new areas of research.

Stanley Cohen of Vanderbilt University and Rita Levi-Montalcini of the Institute of Cell Biology in Rome jointly received the Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology for their discoveries of growth factors. The technique of citation analysis-recording and analyzing the number of times a particular paper is cited in the literature, and by whom-shows that their work has made a major contribution to several related fields.

Levi-Montalcini's work on nerve growth factor dates from the late 1940s and early 1950s. Twenty of her papers have been cited more than 50 times; much of her early work is still regularly referenced. A similar pattern can be found in Co hen's work on epidermal growth factor (see accompanying graph). The papers the two laureates have co-authored, however, are not among their most highly cited work.

Research front analysis is the identification of developing scientific areas, using citation analysis. The Institute for Scientific Information, which publishes THE SCIENTIST, began to study research fronts in the early 1970s. It has identified at least 20 distinct areas of research that owe a heavy debt to Cohen and Levi-Montalcini's work. These include work in cell culture, cell division, growth factor, cancer and neural development.

Shaping the Field

The Nobel Prize in physics was shared by Ernst Ruska of the Fritz Haber Institute in Berlin, a pioneer in the development and design of the electron microscope, and the team of Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, for their design of the scanning tunneling microscope. Ruska's work, done in the late 1920s and early 1930s, has become so assimilated into the scientific wisdom that citations to his original work are rare, except for a re cent reappearance in the literature on the history of electron microscopy. But it is clear from research front analysis that Ruska has had a seminal impact on fields (including physics, biology and medicine) that rely on electron microscopy.

The work of Binnig and Rohrer at the IBM Research Laboratory in Zurich, in contrast, dates from 1982. Although their work has had a chance to accumulate citations for only a short time, its importance is clear: a 1983 paper by Binnig, Rohrer, Gerber and Weibel is one of the most highly cited papers in the physics literature for that year. Distinct lines of research relating to theory and development of the technique, its biological uses, and its application with inorganic crystals have already emerged from their work.

The Nobel Prize in chemistry was shared this year by Dudley Herschbach of Harvard University, Yuan Lee of the University of California at Berkeley and John Polanyi of the University of Toronto. All three have studied the dynamics of chemical reactions using a variety of new and sophisticated techniques and all have written many highly cited papers.

Research front analysis of their work reveals a densely interacting network of research activity in the areas of molecular collisions and
the details of chemical reactions. The field has evolved from the work by Herschbach in the early 1960s to that of Polyani in the early 1970s and Lee in the latter half of the 1970s. For the three re searchers, technique and theory al ways have been closely interrelated.

Grimwade is director of the ISI Atlas of Science at the Institute for Scientific Information in Philadelphia, 19104.

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