Journal of Nanoparticle Research

, Volume 11, Issue 5, pp 1023-1041

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

How interdisciplinary is nanotechnology?

  • Alan L. PorterAffiliated withTechnology Policy and Assessment Center, School of Public Policy, Georgia Institute of TechnologySearch Technology, Inc. Email author 
  • , Jan YoutieAffiliated withGeorgia Institute of Technology Enterprise Innovation Institute


Facilitating cross-disciplinary research has attracted much attention in recent years, with special concerns in nanoscience and nanotechnology. Although policy discourse has emphasized that nanotechnology is substantively integrative, some analysts have countered that it is really a loose amalgam of relatively traditional pockets of physics, chemistry, and other disciplines that interrelate only weakly. We are developing empirical measures to gauge and visualize the extent and nature of interdisciplinary interchange. Such results speak to research organization, funding, and mechanisms to bolster knowledge transfer. In this study, we address the nature of cross-disciplinary linkages using “science overlay maps” of articles, and their references, that have been categorized into subject categories. We find signs that the rate of increase in nano research is slowing, and that its composition is changing (for one, increasing chemistry-related activity). Our results suggest that nanotechnology research encompasses multiple disciplines that draw knowledge from disciplinarily diverse knowledge sources. Nano research is highly, and increasingly, integrative—but so is much of science these days. Tabulating and mapping nano research activity show a dominant core in materials sciences, broadly defined. Additional analyses and maps show that nano research draws extensively upon knowledge presented in other areas; it is not constricted within narrow silos.


Nanotechnology research activity patterns Nanotechnology trends Nanoscale science and engineering Interdisciplinarity Bibliometrics Science mapping