Early stage identification of breakthroughs at the interface of science and technology: lessons drawn from a landmark publication
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Certain scholarly publications or patent publications may signal breakthroughs in basic scientific research or radical new technological developments. Are there bibliographical indicators that enable an analysis of R&D dynamics to help identify these ‘local revolutions’ in science and technology? The focus of this paper is on early stage identification of potential breakthroughs in science that may evolve into new technology. We analyse bibliographic information for a typical example of such a breakthrough to pinpoint information that has the potential to be used as bibliographic indicator. The typical example used is the landmark research paper by Novoselov et al. (Science 306(5696): 666–669, 2004) concerning graphene. After an initial accumulation of theoretical knowledge about graphene over a period of 50 years this publication of the discovery of a method to produce graphene had an immediate and significant impact on the R&D community; it provides a link between theory, experimental verification, and new technological applications. The publication of this landmark discovery marks a sharp rise in the number of scholarly publications, and not much later an increase in the number of filings for related patent applications. Noticeable within 2 years after publication is an above average influx of researchers and of organisations. Changes in the structure of co-citation term maps point to renewed interest from theoretical physicists. The analysis uncovered criteria that can help in identifying at early stage potential breakthroughs that link science and technology.
KeywordsBreakthrough Early stage Graphene Science–technology interface Weak signals
The authors kindly thank Prof. J.W.M. Frenken, Leiden Institute of Physics—Leiden University, and Prof. A.F.J. van Raan, Centre for Science and Technology Studies—Leiden University, for their useful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. We also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments during peer review of this manuscript.
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