2020 in Review – The Achievements of the Sol-Gel Science and Technology Community

2020 in Review – The Achievements of the Sol-Gel Science and Technology Community

It is undoubtedly true that 2020 is a year that most of us would like to forget, as we focus on the new year ahead and the opportunities that it brings. However, in spite of the significant challenges that confronted us in 2020 (many of which are still ongoing), the remarkable resilience of our scientific community is reflected in our collective achievements across the year. In this short review, we highlight some of those achievements through a “lens” that focuses on the broad international distribution of sol-gel practitioners, and on the papers, patents and other outcomes that our efforts produced.

The ISGS in 2020 – the “demographics” of a society

Since the creation of the ISGS was first proposed by Professor Doug Mackenzie, our Society has grown to embrace a subscriber list exceeding 1300 members in over 60 countries. The majority are located in Universities, with a significant number of subscribers in Companies and National Laboratories. A number of significant multinational companies are represented, with 56 subscribers representing around 30 multinationals. By far the largest number of subscribers are located in France (154), with significant numbers in Japan (76), Spain (73), China (67), USA (63), Russia (41) and Italy (41). Nearly half of the countries represented have fewer than five subscribers, emphasising the importance of maintaining strong engagement across the geographical spread of our society through such initiatives as the biennial conference, summer schools, the ISGS Newsletter and the upcoming ISGS eSeminar series.

2020 publication activity of the Sol-Gel Community

The scientific output of the sol-gel community, as represented by the number of papers published during 2020 with “sol-gel” in the title or keywords, was substantial, with (co-)authors from 108 countries publishing over 6850 papers.

This represents a small increase in publication volume when compared to 2019, indicating that we used at least some of our time in isolation to catch up on our writing! The total number of colleagues who contributed to these papers is staggering, with over 28,000 authors being identified (Source: SciFinder). Nearly 1400 of these authors contributed to the 308 papers in the Journal of Sol-Gel Science and Technology, highlighting the collaborative nature of our community with each paper involving an average of around four co-authors. China (2036 papers), India (1081) and Iran (384) continue to produce over 50 % of the world’s sol-gel papers, with authors from the United States, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, France, Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan and Russia each contributing to over 200 works. The majority of our sol-gel papers were published in JSST (308) and Ceramics International (304), with 18 journals featuring 50 or more solgel-related papers. In all, 150 journals featured 10 or more papers based on sol-gel science and technology.

Although the number of papers published during 2020 is an indicator of the activity of our community, the citation rates of these papers reflects their overall impact and help to identify fields where sol-gel science is making an impact. As of the time when the information for this story was collated, 15 sol-gel papers published during 2020 had already been cited more than 30 times, with one having been cited 75 times. An additional 26 sol-gel papers have been cited 20-30 times since they first appeared during 2020. The broad domains in which these papers have impacted include energy generation/ storage (photovoltaics, batteries) electronics (thermal conductors, ferrites), environmental protection (photocatalysis, separation, analysis, corrosion protection), oncology, etc.

2020 patent activity of the sol-gel community

The patent output of the sol-gel community was substantial in 2020, with 1200 patent applications either filed or granted. These came from over 700 Institutions distributed across 29 countries, with filings appearing in 11 languages (dominated by Chinese-language filings). Chinese Institutions were responsible for 65 % of all patents filed or granted. Although the majority of filings were made by Companies (43 %), a high proportion also came from Universities (37 %), with smaller numbers from other types of Institutions.

The conversion of basic and applied science to intellectual property (and ultimately into commercial products) is an important step in ensuring that sol-gel science and technology continues to have a positive impact on society. One interesting way in which to track this conversion is to compare the number of scientific publications and patents granted/filed in specific fields over a particular period (noting the limitations imposed by the longer publication lead times with patenting). For example, the top three areas for papers published in 2020 were nanocomposites, films and photocatalysis, whereas these fields were much less dominant in the corresponding patent literature. Polysiloxanes were a significant area of patent activity, but were much less dominant in the academic literature, reflecting the expected lag between patenting (and protection of IP) and publishing.

Concluding thoughts

It is always important for a community to celebrate its individual and joint successes, and never is the need for this more pressing than in times when we are faced with significant challenges. There is no question that our community is remarkably resilient, and it is evident that we have much to celebrate. However, while celebrating success, it is also important to focus on the broader question of what more might we do, as a community, to better support our colleagues and ensure that we continue to grow and flourish.

For example, it is a tribute to the sustained efforts of many people over the past decade that the ISGS subscriber list in 2020 included over 1300 colleagues in Academia, National Laboratories, Industry and Government distributed across more than 60 countries. This is a significant network that exists to serve the sol-gel community. However, it is also evident that many of our regional sol-gel communities are either unrepresented or under-represented within this network, as indicated by the differences between the number of countries-of-origin of ISGS subscribers and those contributing to the academic and patent literature. We are currently developing a range of initiatives (such as the ISGS eSeminar Series and Renata Reisfeld PhD Student Fellowship for Women in SolGel Science and Technology) to better support and grow the international sol-gel community at all levels and enhance equity and diversity within our community. However, we would welcome any thoughts that you might have regarding other initiatives that could be developed to further enrich these important aspirational goals.