Broad trends such as the globalization of 21st century technology and increased international and transnational industrial and economic activity have helped drive the globalization of R&D. Information technology and global communications are affecting the execution of R&D in innumerable ways and enabling it to evolve new global modalities. Information from the National Science Foundation, the results of a survey of industrial R&D by the Economist Intelligence Unit, and the results of a poll of MSE practitioners carried out for this study all show that globalization has led to more transnational academia-led R&D with international academic and industrial collaborators and to more transnational corporation-led R&D with foreign affiliates of U.S. corporations, foreign academics, or foreign corporations. The data show that companies are driven to globalize their R&D activity for a number of reasons, not least of which are access to expertise, mitigating the impacts of regulatory regimes, proximity to new international customers, and cost savings. Risk factors for overseas corporate R&D investment are varied but can include concern about the ownership of intellectual property and the security of trade secrets, as well as concerns about the rule of law and democratic institutions, particularly in developing economies. Academic researchers take part in global MSE R&D by seeking out domestic or international partners that can advance their research priorities, by participating in international conferences, and by adopting information technology for sharing R&D results on a global scale.
How is globalization affecting U.S. leadership in MSE R&D? The benchmarking evidence presented in this report paints a varied picture. In the subfield of composites, the United States risks being unable to exploit the promise of composites because of the significant and continuing decline of its leadership in the subfield. Leadership in the subfield of magnetic materials is mixed, with the United States in the lead in some critical areas and among the leaders in others. The United States appears to be losing its leadership role in metallurgy R&D, and there are no signs that this trend is going to be reversed any time soon. The situation in electronic and optical-photonic materials is mixed, with the United States leading in some areas and not in others. Currently, U.S. scientists working on superconductivity are at the cutting edge in nearly all the component areas of superconducting materials. However, the United States does not dominate in any, because other countries share or surpass the U.S. lead in applications. The United States has seen a continued decline in its former dominance in catalyst technology. While the United States leads global activity in nanomaterials and nanotechnology as measured by the number of corporations engaged in the subfield, it is too early to say which, if any, region of the world is going to show clear leadership as this field