What does it mean to be Highly Cited?

Nov 14 2017

Ever wonder what goes into creating the Highly Cited Researchers list? In this video, we’ll take an inside look at the data and analysis behind Highly Cited Researchers and hear from the Highly Cited Researchers themselves on what it means to be highly cited and the impact it can have on them and their institution.


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This Season’s Fashion: Land Based Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR) Technologies

Oct 25 2017

I have been working on soil and vegetation carbon sequestration, and on the potential of bioenergy for climate mitigation for over 20 years, so when I heard about “negative emissions technologies” (NETs) a few years ago, I was pleased to find that I had some expertise on a topic that had become very trendy! Negative emissions technologies are practices and technologies that lead to a net removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Before the term negative emission technologies came into common usage, the term “carbon dioxide removal” (CDR) was used, and the new fashion appears to be to use the term greenhouse gas removal (GGR) as this encompasses technologies that remove other, non-CO2 greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. So much for cutting down on the over-use of acronyms!

Figure 1 shows the main flows of carbon associated with GGR technologies (shown from panels D to I), compared with fossil fuels (panel A), bioenergy (panel B) and carbon capture and storage (panel C).1

GGR technologies have become the subject of such intensive scrutiny because of the increasing difficulty of limiting warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures (the aim of the Paris Climate Agreement2) through emission reduction alone. Because we have failed to effectively tackle climate change to date, and greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase despite efforts to reduce them,3 it is getting increasingly difficult to hit the 2°C target. Indeed, a majority of scenarios submitted to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Scenarios Database show that often very significant amounts (20 Gt CO2e/yr) of greenhouse gas removals are required to reach a 2°C target by 2100.3,4,5 Given that most models fail to reach a 2°C target without GGRs,3 it seems impossible that the aspirational target of 1.5°C of the Paris Agreement could be met without GGRs. For this reason, it has become necessary to assess the global potential, feasibility, barriers and impacts of GGRs.

I have recently been involved in efforts to examine and compare the global implications of widespread implementation of GGRs on land competition, greenhouse gas emissions, physical climate feedbacks (e.g., albedo), water requirements, nutrient use, energy and cost.5,6 These studies suggest that no GGR is a magic bullet, and each has its limitations. For direct air capture using amines or, for example, sodium hydroxide solution, and for enhanced weathering on minerals that naturally absorb CO2, the GGR potentials are large, but the energy and monetary costs are high.5 For bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, and for afforestation / reforestation, the potentials are also large, but the land, water and nutrient footprints are high.5 For soil carbon sequestration and biochar addition to the soil,6 there is significant GGR potential (though lower than for the other GGRs mentioned above), but the potential could be realised with much less competition for land, water and nutrients than, for example, BECCS and afforestation, and at much lower cost than enhanced mineral weathering and direct air capture of CO2.

Another recent study with which I was involved suggests that GGR potentials for soils and biochar could be greater.7 In addition, soil-based GGRs could help deliver other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly those pertaining to poverty, hunger, climate and life on land.8 Yet constraints due to high uncertainties about the GGR achievable, the need for site-specific options and incentives, social and ecological impacts, and the risk of impermanence have limited soil-based GGRs to date.

When I first began looking in detail at GGRs, I was of the opinion that there was a “moral jeopardy” associated with them, i.e. that relying on GGRs could lower our ambition on emission reduction actions, and might be used as an excuse to continue with business-as-usual emissions for longer.5,9  After the Paris Agreement was signed, I have changed my mind. Given the stringent targets, it now seems to me that we will need bothimmediate and aggressive mitigation actions plus implementation of GGRs10.

We could start implementing some of these GGRs now: soil carbon sequestration could be started, and could be incentivised through the “4per1000” Initiative that arose from the Paris Agreement,11 with co-benefits for food security and other ecosystem services. Reforestation of land not used for food production and peatland/coastal wetland restoration could also be begun immediately. We could begin large-scale demonstration of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or biochar production, in cases where biomass is already being burned for bioenergy – for example, paper and pulp industry and other forestry “waste” stream, thereby doing so with no additional land/water footprint. And we could invest heavily in research and development of other GGRs such as direct air capture and enhanced mineral weathering, to find ways to reduce energy and financial costs that seem to be barriers to implementation at present.10

We also need a better evidence base for GGRs. Although the Smith, et al. (2016)5 and Smith (2016)6 reports collated the best available evidence, the evidence base for many of the impacts of GGRs was weak. More fundamental research on GGRs is necessary, and well as better representation of a variety of GGRs in ecosystem models and integrated assessment models.10

I expect interest in GGRs to continue to grow in the coming years, so we as a scientific and engineering community must be ready to meet the R&D challenges presented, and to help in designing large-scale demonstration projects that will allow us to learn by doing, and to realise economies of scale. And we need to be ready to sense-check the proposed implementation of GGRs and to assess and advise on potential negative externalities.

Getting into the world of GGRs has introduced me to a whole range of new collaborators with very different areas of expertise to my own. This interdisciplinarity has been stimulating and rewarding, and I look forward to working on these issues for a number of years to come.


Smith et al. (2016) Environ. Sci.: Processes & Impacts 18, 1400–1405.

2 UNFCCC (2015) The Paris Agreement: http://unfccc.int/files/essential_background/convention/application/pdf/english_paris_agreement.pdf

Edenhofer, O. et al. (eds) (2014) Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. CUP, UK.

Fuss, S. et al. (2014) Nature Clim. Change 4, 850–853.

Smith, P. et al. (2016) Nature Clim. Change 6, 42-50.

Smith, P. (2016) Glob. Change Biol. 22, 1315–1324.

Paustian, K. et al. (2016). Nature, 532, 49-57.

UNDP (2015) Sustainable Development Goals: undp.org.

9 Anderson, K. (2015) Nature Geoscience 8, 898–900.

10 Fuss et al. (2016) Environ. Res. Lett. 11, 115007. doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/11/11/115007.

11 The 4 per 1000 Initiative: 4p1000.org.

Figure 1. Schematic representation of carbon flows among atmospheric, land, ocean and geological reservoirs1,5,6.

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Exploring the Future of Climate Change

Oct 22 2017

There are ways for people to limit climate change to less than 2 degrees.[i] Detlef van Vuuren and his team have been working to show how using so-called integrated assessment models, and this work has made him one of the most widely cited climate-change researchers in the world. The models van Vuuren is working with help to show connections between different factors causing climate change, including human development and lifestyle, as well as energy and land use.

van Vuuren is a professor of integrated assessment of global environmental change at the Netherlands’ Utrecht University, and senior researcher at PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. In his research, he covers socio-economic, technological, lifestyle, policy and other factors and their relationship to climate change. Combining these, he envisions possible futures to mitigate climate change, and helps policymakers in strategic decisions by showing the different consequences of pathways that aim to achieve these futures.[ii]

The integrated assessment models use past trends and historical behavior to make projections of future system behavior. These projections include how various changes will affect future climate and biodiversity. His most-cited work focuses specifically on reaching low greenhouse gas targets, using approaches like carbon dioxide removal technologies, bio-energy, carbon capture and storage, and afforestation.

“I think the truly interesting part of our work is that model-based scenarios can translate overall societal goals into researchable questions,” says van Vuuren. For instance, whether it possible to build up the renewable energy capacity of a technology-focused response strategy.


Modeling a Sustainable Future

In one important example of this work, van Vuuren used the IMAGE model, which he co-developed, to show a path to limit climate change to maximum warming of 2 degrees  (the RCP2.6 scenario) using a combination of renewable energy, energy efficiency, carbon capture and storage, reduction of non-CO2 gases and land-based mitigation measures. The scenario formed the basis of many research papers, but contributed also to climate policy. Most notably, by forming a major component of the latest IPCC report, the RCP2.6 scenario has contributed to the Paris Climate Agreement.

In 2012, he used the same model to explore pathways to meeting a sustainable world in 2050 in terms of biodiversity loss, climate change and access to food and energy.  Since then, the research of van Vuuren’s team has centered more and more on how to achieve such sustainable development goals (SDGs), helping researchers and policymakers understand the connection between those goals and what’s needed to achieve them.

“At the moment, for many SDGs, there are no scenarios of how to achieve them — and certainly no scenarios of how to achieve all the SDGs at the same time,” he says.

This makes it harder for policymakers to either work or monitor progress toward a sustainable future. As they have done previously in supporting climate policy, researchers can help to shape sustainable development policy by generating scenarios that shed light on the SDGs and the connections between them. Such scenarios can show the role of technology solutions and lifestyle change in helping to maintain the health of the climate and environment.[iii]

Most of this work centers on long-term goals, but the team is also focusing increasingly on the short-term implications of those goals. This includes addressing what policymakers are willing and able to do in different political environments. Building those short-term solutions into long-term plans requires collaboration with policy and other social scientists that look at the role and interests of different actor groups. Scenarios that are better rooted into the social-science knowledge basis can help policymakers to orchestrate a smoother societal transition to sustainability.


Humans Can Make the Difference

van Vuuren says one of the biggest surprises he’s encountered in his research is that sometimes specific actions can have a noticeable difference in achieving a more sustainable future (including mitigating climate change) than he originally expected.  Actions like eating less meat — especially beef — can lessen climate change and protect biodiversity more than he expected, as can the emergence of renewable technologies.[iv]

“For instance, ensuring large-scale electrification of energy use in combination with large-scale penetration of renewable can really have a big impact,” he says. “The trends over the last few years in renewable technologies and batteries were much faster than we imagined.”

This makes him still optimistic that humans can help to combat climate change and preserve biodiversity. With this in mind, he says that a great place for beginning researchers to start is to find a research topic that’s relevant to the grant challenges society is currently facing. Often such topics involve interdisciplinary research, the process of filling knowledge gaps between specialty areas. This integrative research can also help solve more complex problems and guide policymaking better than traditional disciplinary research. Understanding how different sciences can work together, and how the system works as a whole, can provide greater value and impact to the results of a study. This is especially true when researchers hope to prompt policy changes.

“It helps to keep your eyes on the big picture and avoid investing time and money only to gain more and more detailed knowledge within a single discipline,” Van Vuuren says. “Especially now, while we are looking for policy responses, it is essential to see how different sciences can work together.”

[i] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-011-0148-z
[ii] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S095937801630067X


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How a molecule called ‘cucurbituril’ is changing the way we look at scientific research

Oct 19 2017

Do you know a molecule called ‘cucurbituril’? Kimoon Kim is a Highly Cited Researcher who pioneered this amazing molecule.

Field of Study

A molecule called cucurbituril is the key subject of my studies. This cyclic molecule is made from glycoluril and formaldehyde and looks like a hollow pumpkin-shaped container. This molecule can contain smaller molecules and may consequently be used as a tool for stabilizing unstable compounds and can also act as a delivery vehicle. In the past, only the molecule containing 6 glycoluril units was known, but my students and I learned that there is a family of cucurbituril homologues which come in different sizes, ranging from 5 to 11 glycoluril units. We separated the cucurbiturils that contained 5, 7 or 8 units so that we could study their chemistry individually. Depending on the number of glycoluril units contained, the size of the molecule can vary, and the size of molecules that it can accommodate changes accordingly. There is a bonding force between the cucurbiturils and the molecules they contain; when the “guest” molecule is well-designed, this force can be as strong as biotin-avidin, which is the benchmark for strong interaction found in nature. Avidin is a large protein that has many different points of connection with biotin, which causes the strong binding. Thus, it has been a difficult task to replicate this strong binding with much smaller molecules. Cucurbiturils have emerged as a timely solution to problems in many areas. In the field of materials, for example, they can be used as sensors or adhesives. They can also be used in bioscience as a drug-delivery vehicle that lowers drug side effects, such as toxicity, etc.


Why I Chose This Subject

When I began as a professor at POSTECH in 1988, I wanted to study my own subject instead of continuing the old subject I had studied in the United States. In 1991, I read a research paper on cucurbituril in the library and became interested in this molecule. It is a symmetrically beautiful molecule and is easily synthesized in just two steps. Another reason I chose this as my field was that there was no other researcher aside from the one who published a paper in 1981. Although it was part of organic chemistry, which was different from my original field of study, I felt motivated to begin studying it because I wanted to do my own thing, and I was very interested in this field.


Challenges and Solutions

The five years I spent studying cucurbituril was a hard time in my life. No matter how hard I tried, I was not able to produce good results. I was enormously stressed out during my studies, and my health deteriorated. I even thought of stopping the project immediately after publishing a paper. I spent my sabbatical year in 1995 at MIT, during which time I continued to receive weekly reports from my staff. One of them contacted me and told me the good news: It had been hard to identify a solution to dissolve cucurbituril, but they found it by chance. This discovery encouraged me to keep on studying after returning from MIT. Finally, in 1996, I published two papers in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and became the first Korean researcher to have my results featured in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) twice in two months’ time. (C&EN is a weekly trade magazine published by the American Chemical Society.) After that, my research results were widely recognized at various conferences. My research was selected as an inventive research task by the Ministry of Science and Technology, and I was given a long-term government grant to continue studying.


Supporting Researchers

Economic conditions for researchers in Korea have improved greatly; researchers now have sufficient funds and equipment for their studies. I think it is time we promoted the importance of idea and passion. It is important to provide an environment where young researchers can do the research they want with long-term goals in view. Innovative research studies are possible only when new areas are ventured into boldly. Researchers focusing too much on short-term results cannot achieve such advances. If research funds are provided based on short-term achievements, and promotion or tenure is determined by these, new researchers will study only the subjects that can enable short-term results, and they will not be inspired to challenge themselves with new areas with unknown potential. Discussions on who will win Nobel Prizes, and when, should stop. Instead, fundamental sciences should be supported more solidly. I believe the environment will help and motivate researchers to walk their own ways and freely produce research results.


Advice to Young Researchers

I would like to ask young researchers to dare to study new areas that others have not, instead of seeking an easy way. When you study a difficult subject, you may tend to compare your results with those of your peers, which can be frustrating. Developing a new area is a high-risk, high-return field. The deeper your frustration is, the more fruitful your success will be. Note, however, that you have to consider various possibilities as well. Therefore, entertain big dreams and make daring challenges, but also have a strategy and keep your risk diversified. While pursuing your main area, please find other possibilities for tangible results with lower risks.


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Rising Stars from Essential Science Indicators

Oct 17 2017

Essential Science Indicators from Clarivate Analytics provides citation rankings of scientists, institutions, countries, and journals broken out by broad fields of science. A citation threshold is applied to each field ranking; scientists and institutions are selected if they are in the top 1% by total citations in a given field, and countries and journals must be in the top 50%. A total of 10 years of Clarivate Analytics citation data, plus some number of consecutive bimonthly periods during the current year, are used to determine the rankings. Since Essential Science Indicators is updated every two months, it is possible to identify the scientists, institutions, countries, and journals that have the largest percentage increase in total citations from one update to the next. We call these Rising Stars.

Following the latest bimonthly update to Essential Science Indicators, we have produced a listing of the Rising Stars from the first bimonthly period of 2017 to the second bimonthly period of 2017—that is, from February 2017 to April 2017—in their respective fields.

Among the scientists, the following are named as Rising Stars in their disciplines:

The institutions achieving Rising Star status are as follows:

Among the countries named as Rising Stars, Macau and Qatar distinguish themselves in multiple fields.

The below table lists the Rising Stars among journals. For the purposes of this analysis, Multidisciplinary journals appearing in other fields were omitted.

For full details and citation histories of these entities, see the Essential Science Indicators product. If you do not have access to the product, please contact your institution’s library or research office.

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Dr. Mohammed Valipour on His Fast-Breaking Paper in Agricultural Sciences

Aug 23 2017

In a recent Fast-Breaking Papers analysis of Essential Science Indicators data, two papers related to irrigation and precipitation analysis appeared, and both share a corresponding author, Dr. Mohammed Valipour.

The first paper is Simulation of open- and closed-end border irrigation systems using SIRMOD” (Arch. Agron. Soil Sci.  61 [7]: 929-941 3 July 2015), which is the Fast-Breaking Paper in Agricultural Sciences. Currently in theWeb of Science, this paper has 95 citations. The second paper is the Fast-Breaking Paper in Geosciences, “Optimization of neural networks for precipitation analysis in a humid region to detect drought and wet year alarms” (Meteorol. Appl. 23[1]: 91-100, January 2016), which has 141 Web of Science citations at present.

Dr. Valipour is a Lecturer at Payame Noor University in Tehran, Iran. Below, he talks about the Archives of Angronomy and Soil Science paper.


Why do you think your paper is highly cited?

I believe the reason is due to the fact that my papers have focused on essential gaps in the fields. Most of agricultural lands are irrigated using surface irrigation systems. However, the efficiency of these systems is too low. Therefore, an accurate simulation of surface irrigation systems and/or prediction of rainfall play an important role in Agricultural Science and Geosciences, respectively.

Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or synthesis of knowledge?

No. They are optimization of previous methods.

How did you become involved in this research, and how would you describe the particular challenges, setbacks, and successes that you’ve encountered along the way?

This research was one of the main concerns to improve knowledge on the topic. However, I should work on it more and more in future.

Where do you see your research leading in the future?

This depends on the future challenges in Agricultural Sciences and Geosciences considering climate change impacts.

Do you foresee any social or political implications for your research?

My research is useful for human aspects, but does not have any political implications.


Dr. Mohammed Valipour
Payame Noor University
Tehran, Iran

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Optimizing Data on Climate Change

Aug 22 2017

If climate scientist Kaicun Wang has any deep personal reflections on climate change and its implications for humanity, he doesn’t seem inclined to share them. Instead, he concentrates on the data at hand. “I don’t do anything involving forecasting or mitigation,” says Wang, based at Beijing Normal University, China. “What I try to do is understand past patterns in climate change, quantify the uncertainty of observed data, and work to improve climate-change detection.”

After beginning his academic career with studies on the complicated interaction between land and atmosphere, Wang actually turned his attention to the specifics of data collection: meteorological observations and remote sensing from satellites. The data, inevitably, demanded analysis. “Step by step,” says Wang, “I worked my way back to the field of atmospheric science, investigating how land-atmosphere interaction impacts climate change.”



In particular, Wang has concentrated on a central phenomenon in the interface between land and atmosphere: evapotranspiration. In this process, prompted by solar radiation, water changes from liquid to gas and enters the atmosphere via evaporation from land and water surfaces and via transpiration from plants. The result is clouds and precipitation. Moreover, having absorbed the sun’s radiation, land actually heats the atmosphere. These various dynamics, of course, are a central energy source and driver of climate change.

Wang’s most-cited paper in the Web of Science Core Collection, coauthored with Robert Dickinson, his mentor during his postdoctoral studies at the University of Texas at Austin, reviews terrestrial evapotranspiration and attendant matters of modeling and climatic variation (K.C. Wang, R.E. Dickinson, Reviews of Geophysics, 50, DOI: 10.1029/2011RG000373, May 2012; now cited more than 225 times.) Another paper on which Wang was a leading author, from 2010, discussed satellite evidence for an increase in global land surface evapotranspiration from 1982 to 2002 (K.C. Wang, et al., Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, D20113, DOI: 10.1029/2010JD01384, 2010).

An abiding challenge for Wang and his colleagues has been – far from a lack of data – a lack of complete, uniform data. For example, figures collected from hundreds of weather stations may be inconsistent due to the sensing equipment having been changed over time. Information on such key factors as solar radiation may be sparse.

Some of Wang’s recent work has concentrated on input data and devising improved methods for calculating evapotranspiration and its effects. By combining different data sources, he’s worked to arrive at a better set of data on solar radiation. Based on this work, he found that observational bias – including variations in instrument sensitivity and the periodic replacement of instruments – explains the discrepancies between the observed and simulated variability of surface incident solar radiation in the decades spanning the 1950s and 1980s. He has also concentrated on other variables, such as wind speed and relative humidity. “Lately,” he notes, “I’ve focused on how to gauge the input data more accurately.”


Aerosols and surface solar radiation

Wang’s other key contributions center on atmospheric aerosols. A paper he counts among his most significant appeared in Science in 2009. This report examines the phenomenon of “global dimming” – a lessening surface solar radiation – due to increased levels of aerosols and the subsequent decrease in solar radiation reaching Earth’s surface, between 1973 and 2007. This dimming effect is less pronounced over Europe, where air-quality standards are more stringent, but is more prevalent over south and east Asia, South America, Australia, and Africa, resulting in, as the paper notes, “a net global dimming over land” (K.C. Wang, et al., Science, 323 [5920]: 1468-70, 2009; cited in Web of Science more than 155 times).


Regional Warming

The geographic differences in clear-sky visibility point to another aspect of Wang’s work, and to a comparatively recent shift in climate studies: a change in emphasis from global to regional warming. “Currently,” says Wang, “scientists are more interested in regional climate change, and regional climate change is actually more complex. A major issue is how land-atmosphere interaction affects the process.”

Again, the challenge for Wang and his colleagues is deciding upon the best data to employ. Even something as apparently simple as determining air temperature can present inconsistency and uncertainty. “The dataset we currently use for air temperature is not a real measurement of mean temperature,” he says. “It’s only an average from daily maximum and minimum temperatures. It’s better if we use the maximum temperature rather than the mean. And, in the study of the land-atmosphere interaction, another parameter not currently being used is ‘skin surface’ temperature data available from satellites and from Chinese weather stations. This is better than the standard collection of ‘air temperature,’ which some people call ‘surface temperature’ but is actually the ‘near-surface’ temperature, sometimes called the ‘two-meter’ temperature.” (K.C. Wang, Scientific Reports, 4, 4637: DOI: 10.1038/scrp04637, 2014; J. Du, et al., Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 17: 4931-44, 2017).

Regional climate change is central to Wang’s latest work, studying varying rates of temperature change in China itself – a warming trend in the north, with cooling in the south. Taking into account solar radiation and other variables, Wang is working on how computer models of the system can reproduce this kind of change.

Asked whether he’s optimistic about the challenges of a changing climate, Wang makes plain that his focus is on the data and maximizing its usefulness. “We have ground-based observation from weather stations, we have satellite data, and we have modelling studies,” he says. “We have a lot of data that are not being used in current studies, such as sunshine-duration visibility and land-surface temperature measurements. These data all have their own advantages, and we can use that. My first goal is to know how the climate is changing. The second is to know why.”


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Viewing the world through mathematics

Aug 15 2017

Please introduce your research field briefly.

I specialize in the field of nonlinear functional analysis. More specifically, my main research topics are fixed point problems, equilibrium problems, variational inequality problems, complementarity problems, optimization problems and other nonlinear problems. These problems are applied to some kinds of spaces such as fuzzy metric spaces and probabilistic metric spaces to show the existence of solutions to these problems. Optimization problems, in particular, are largely applied to other disciplinary areas including sociology, engineering, medicine and natural sciences.


Could you explain what made you choose to study the field and what you have accomplished so far?

When I was an undergraduate student in mathematics at Pusan National University in Korea about 46 years ago, I was greatly influenced by Prof. Jae Keol Park. Since then, I have studied hard mathematics for all my life. After I received my Ph.D. degree at Pusan National University in August, 1984, I began my postdoctoral research on Banach’s fixed-point theorem and geometry of Banach spaces at Saint Louis University in the USA, which provided the starting point for my lifelong studies in nonlinear functional analysis. In fact, Banach’s fixed-point theorem is especially attractive in the sense that it makes use of various approaches for this theorem. What it means is that this theorem can be studied in many different ways, including generalizations of the theorem, involving many kinds of applications in applied sciences and other areas.


Please, tell us how you overcame challenges during your studies.

One of the challenges was to exchange research outcomes with other researchers all over the world. Before the era of the internet began, I relied on letters to communicate with many researchers in other countries. At times, such correspondence took up to one month or more. To overcome these difficulties, I tried hard to organize “International Conferences on Nonlinear Functional Analysis and Applications” and invited many renowned scholars to the conference sites. I was able to advance my studies through discussions with them and by conducting joint studies based on new ideas and solutions. I also worked hard as an editor for at least 20 local and international journals to keep abreast of trends in academe.


The efforts that I made for research conferences were motivated by my academic philosophy, “Bulgwangbulgeup(不狂不及),” which means “To be a master, be crazy about what you do.” Mathematics requires steady efforts; if you stop studying it for some time, you lose your scholastic sensitivity or have your study results downgraded. As a researcher, I have concentrated on mathematical problems for almost all of my life. Consistency is important in this subject to moving forward, as well as keeping track of past research results. This is why I think it is crucial to engage in conference meetings and to contribute to academic journals, establishing the living archives for references.


Please, tell us about how our academic environment could be improved to promote academic advances.

I find it lamentable that, these days, many universities are not treating mathematics with due gravity. Of course, it is important to invest in more pragmatic fields of study that provide economic benefit. Note, however, that basic science is as important as applied sciences. Applied sciences can thrive only if we have a solid basis in fundamental sciences. Mathematics provides an important academic base for scientific advances, even national progress. Many Nobel Prize winners in Economics, Physics, and even Literature have studied mathematics as their major subject in college. In other words, mathematics provides the base for many other fields of study.


Please tell us about the activities you are currently engaged in.

As a Mathematics Ambassador for the Korean Mathematical Society (KMS), I often give lectures at elementary, middle, high schools and universities. My lecture is based on the theme “View the World through Mathematics”; it also deals with what beauty is, how the human brain functions, what makes your studies more efficient, how to solve mathematical problems and how mathematics can apply to your real life. Finally, I tell the young ones to have dreams.


In my opinion, mathematics is based on philosophical thinking. Philosophy and mathematics both aim to dig into human thinking as deep as possible. The only difference between the two areas is the subjectivity and objectivity of thinking: that is, objective thinking is valued in mathematics, whereas subjective thinking is more valued in philosophy. Deep mathematical thinking is expressed and understood through logic, creativity, classification and system, and its benefits can reach to liberal arts and social sciences.


Could you give some tips to younger researchers and scientists who have just started their journey?

The current generation can now easily access abundant information and resources on any topic including mathematics. Many studies are being conducted worldwide and it is important for any researcher who wants to be successful to keep abreast of current trends in the field of interest. At the same time, it is also crucial to focus on a single aim over a period of time to produce excellent results. Even though I may be regarded as a well-advanced researcher at the age of 65, I still feel attracted to mathematics; just like my lifelong teacher, Prof. Jae Keol Park, who is still engrossed in research as if he is on active duty. I would like to ask young scientists to share their ideas with other researchers across countries, diligently seeking new ideas and solutions together. Fresh ideas and new stimulation from your peers can encourage you to continue studying. My exchange with excellent researchers overseas allowed me to acquire many assets, which I could not have achieved alone. This continues to the present day: my companions and co-awardees for HCR honors this year — Honorary Prof. Young Bae Jun, Prof. Shin Min Kang and Dr. Sun Young Cho — keep me encouraged and energized by valuable collaborations.


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Getting to the root of food security, water resources and climate change

Aug 15 2017

What do food security, energy, biodiversity, water resources and climate change have in common? Rattan Lal is working to address each of those problems through soil management. For nearly four decades, Lal has been a leader in addressing soil as a key aspect of the biggest issues facing our planet today.

“I started work on this at Ohio State University in the early 1990s, but before that I was doing similar work in Africa for almost 20 years,” says Lal.

The work has put him in policy discussions in countries across the world trying to figure out how to encourage soil management to solve social and environmental problems.


Lal’s work

In Africa, Lal’s focus had been on how to keep carbon concentration at a level that helped people reliably grow high-quality crops on the same land without converting forest into new cropland. When climate change became an issue, though, it seemed that soil again played a key part. Two drastically different problems had a remarkably similar solution.

In both cases, increasing the carbon concentration of the soil to between 1.5 and 2 percent as far as about 20 centimeters underground made a significant difference. And those aren’t the only two areas which benefit from carbon sequestration – the process can improve water resources and help provide alternative fuel sources, too.

Lal says the future of this field must include discussion of how to actually implement the findings. Political and social scientists and policy makers must investigate how to incentivize soil modification and train people to do it. Understanding the individual soil needs of different places is also important.


Becoming highly cited

Lal says the key to being highly cited is being at the right place at the right time, and researching issues of global significance. He also emphasizes networking. For him, the right place is Ohio State. Not only does OSU provide the lab and research support he needs, but from there he has also received visiting scholars from around the world.

These researchers spend three months to a year learning about Lal’s research and how to conduct it in their own countries. They then return to their home universities with the skills to join a worldwide network of scientists and publishers working on these issues. Lal is one of the central figures in this network.

Lal encourages networking, not only because it increases the impact of research, but also because it helps lessen the burden of limited research resources. He also says it’s important to choose a topic you’re passionate enough about not to get discouraged when problems arise.

“You shouldn’t get discouraged,” Lal says. “The work must continue, and that means you believe in what you’re doing and that you’re going to make it regardless of what happens”


Web of Science connections

Lal uses Web of Science nearly every day, and often several times a day. It guides his research and reading, and tells him which of his articles have made the biggest impact. Through Web of Science, he can find out which topics are important to his research based on citation information. It steers his reading to unique and important topics that he might not have investigated otherwise.

“In my center, we publish two to three books a year,” he says. “You can’t write anything without reading, so Web of Science is very important.”

With XML – which he calls a “miracle” – he’s able to connect anything to the Web of Science from his desk computer, accessing research in ways never before possible.

Carefully selecting a research subject and continuing research despite hardships, while developing a group of like-minded scientists to grow from, is one of the most important aspects of becoming a successful researcher. For Lal, this means getting to the root, literally, of food security, energy, biodiversity, water resources and climate change.

“People should know that soil is part of the solution, and agriculture can be part of the solution,” he says. “That’s an important message.”


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The importance of quality and originality in high-impact research

Aug 15 2017

If you have a smartphone with a camera, you may have benefited from Lei Zhang’s work without even knowing it. At Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Zhang works on improving image processing and recognition — research aimed at enhancing resolution and picture quality, removing blur and making color more vivid.

Enhancing images
Image recognition makes it possible for computers to enhance the quality of photographs by recognizing the intended image and removing the distortions. Image classification also works to enhance computer recognition of images, but in this case to help computers – even those in digital cameras and smartphones – track and classify images.

The end result of this is better-quality pictures at a lower price. In recent years, camera prices have been dropping, and phone-camera quality improving, thanks in part to these types of innovations. For instance, face recognition on smartphones helps the camera ensure that faces aren’t blurry.

“I like to say that for this kind of research, impact is reflected in the factory,” says Zhang. “Companies care about research, because it’s potentially put in digital cameras to enhance images.”

Zhang notes that In the future, image enhancement and analysis might be used in increasingly diverse digital imaging products. People are using more and more digital products, and these innovations can help with virtually all of them. In the near future, smartphones will have intelligent cameras that can cosmetically detect unique or intriguing objects, and tell users what objects are in any given scene.

High-quality original research
The key to success in research, says Zhang, is high-quality, original papers. Much like academics, industry professionals citing papers are looking for useful and novel ideas. Producing such research can be frustrating and time consuming, but it’s only with this effort that researchers can attract citations.

“As a postdoc, I developed a program and found that the result was very good, much better than others. I emailed my supervisor, but later found out that the program was wrong,” says Zhang. “So it’s very frustrating. You have to check carefully, and I use this as an example to let my students know that being a researcher is a very tough job.”

Research takes lots of time and meticulous effort, in addition to broad thinking and innovative ideas. Technology is an area that moves incredibly fast, but research doesn’t always move at the same speed. Zhang’s solution to this dilemma is for researchers to decide on interesting problems to focus on early in their career. The selection of a fresh research topic is crucial, and that means choosing one that other people will find interesting.

Zhang says that having a quality topic is the most important factor in high-impact research. Sometimes people might find themselves with unproductive research, and in that case re-examining or reworking their focus may be the best way to improve their impact.

“Quality is very important,” says Zhang. “So if you fix the topic and make some very interesting investigation, that’s very important.”

Zhang, though, is overwhelmingly excited and optimistic about future researchers in his field, saying he is often surprised by their ideas and intelligence. Technological research is a whole different field from what it was 10 years ago, but he says the young researchers he encounters are well adapted to the task.


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