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Profiling research institutions with the Map of Science, part 3: A tour of Europe

Exterior shot of a building at TU Munich.

2024-02-15

How universities across northern Europe compare in research leadership

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Our last post used the Map of Science to explore research leadership of a diverse range of American universities and their contributions to global science and tech. Using the Map's new author organization filter, we pinpointed research clusters in which different American schools play a leading role, like the University of Florida:

An annotated screenshot of the Map of Science interface, indicating several specific research clusters where the University of Florida is active and the key concepts associated with them.

In this post, we'll share similar snapshots of some of Europe's leading research universities. As in the previous post, the approach we demonstrate here - using the free, public Map of Science interface - can be used by researchers and administrators to understand their own institutions' portfolios, by funders and policymakers to identify institutions especially relevant to different research topics, and by anyone else needing to understand the activity of different players in science and tech.

Today, for example, I'll imagine I'm a European science policymaker aiming to get a better sense of the research ecosystem I help support. Maybe I'm sitting in Brussels - I'll start locally, using the Map of Science to quickly visualize the research leadership of KU Leuven, a major research university located nearby:

An animated screenshot of the Map of Science interface. The user selects ‘KU Leuven’ from the ‘Author organizations’ filter dropdown, and a set of colorful dots appears.

At a glance, we see that KU Leuven plays a leading role in many research clusters (over a thousand!) across a wide range of subjects. We can get a feel for what these clusters are “about” by hovering over them, which brings up details and key concepts in the right-hand sidebar:

An animated screenshot of the Map of Science interface. The user hovers over various clusters, bringing up details and key concepts in a right-hand sidebar.

Examining individual clusters anywhere in KU Leuven's map (using the mouseover previews or cluster detail view) allows us to identify specific areas of research where the university has a leading presence. A few subjectively chosen highlights from our own browsing:

An annotated screenshot of the Map of Science interface, indicating several specific research clusters where KU Leuven is active and the key concepts associated with them.

It's worth emphasizing that these are the areas of research where Leuven leads in our data, which is different from the areas where it is active. In other words, Leuven may have active research programs in areas not highlighted on this map, simply because other schools have even more activity in those areas.

Still, understanding where Leuven leads can help understand the school's unique strengths and specialties. To illustrate this, let's try focusing on a specific part of Leuven's portfolio. Filtering its leadership map to computer science shows a dense group of research clusters at the bottom right. To investigate, we can switch to list view and browse these clusters by their key concepts or other metrics.

An animated screenshot of the Map of Science interface. The user applies a filter for computer science, zooms in on a specific portion of the Map, then switches to the Map's list view.

By default, the Map's list view displays clusters in order of size. We can see that many of the biggest clusters where KU Leuven plays a leading role involve concepts from cryptography and cybersecurity, such as encryption, ciphers, and side-channel attacks. This strongly suggests Leuven has a specialty in these areas (some quick Googling confirms the point).

An animated screenshot of the Map of Science interface. The user scrolls through rows in the list view, revealing different sets of key concepts corresponding to different clusters.

The Map's detail view reveals more about the particular cryptography areas where Leuven researchers lead. Using detail view, I can browse descriptive information about these areas - for example, how fast they're growing, which other research and funding institutions are prominent, or whether there are any related patents or open-source software repositories. Detail view will also show me key articles in each area, with links to further information in external sources such as arXiv or Web of Science (where available).

An animated screenshot of the Map of Science interface. The user scrolls through detail view for a cluster, browsing data in various panes, then opens a link to a Web of Science record.

To learn more about the research landscape in which Leuven is situated, and the university's relative strengths, we can compare its leadership map to other notable institutions in neighboring countries. Here's the map for ETH Zurich in Switzerland:

An annotated screenshot of the Map of Science interface, indicating several specific research clusters where ETH Zurich is active and the key concepts associated with them.

Leiden University, in the Netherlands:

An annotated screenshot of the Map of Science interface, indicating several specific research clusters where Leiden University is active and the key concepts associated with them.

And TU Munich in Germany.

An annotated screenshot of the Map of Science interface, indicating several specific research clusters where TU Munich is active and the key concepts associated with them.

Side by side, we can see some interesting divergences among these universities. Leuven's map is perhaps the most evenly distributed across different subject areas (represented by different colors). Compared to ETH Zurich, for example, Leuven seems to have somewhat less of a leading role in computer science (lavender), math (magenta), and earth sciences (brown), but more of a leading role in the social sciences (yellow) and red (medicine).

Four screenshots of the Map of Science corresponding to four different universities: KU Leuven, ETH Zurich, Leiden University, and TU Munich. Each school's map displays a notably different spatial pattern of colorful dots.
Research leadership maps for KU Leuven, ETH Zurich, Leiden University, and TU Munich. The maps display notably different patterns of research leadership across subject matter areas such as math (magenta), computer science (lavender), earth science (brown), social science (yellow), and medicine (red).

Leiden is also more heavily represented in social science and medicine clusters than ETH Zurich or TU Munich; TU Munich's map looks more similar to ETH Zurich's, but with more medicine clusters. Each university has a notably different distribution of leadership clusters within these different subject matter areas, as well. Exploring these patterns with the Map's map, list, and detail views can help uncover their meaning, as in our case study of Leuven's cryptography program above.

In our last post in this series, we'll use the Map to profile some leading Chinese schools and their research strengths. In the meantime, give the Map a try at sciencemap.eto.tech - or feel free to contact us to learn more. 🤖