tory Network, as well as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Earth Observing System, depend heavily on sensor networks.

Digital technologies also are making possible a new kind of science that depends on simulations combined with experimentation and observation.7 Cosmologists can combine simulations of galactic dynamics with astronomical observations of distant galaxies to analyze the early evolution of the universe. Records of calls made with cell phones can be compared to mathematical models of social networks. Researchers can model the functions of cells, simulate the effects of modifying those functions, and then re-create these modifications in real cells to alter biological function and refine the original models. Large-scale simulations of natural phenomena can be as valuable as data drawn from observations of the natural world.

The advances in research enabled by high-performance computing and high-performance communications are contributing to a steady growth of collaborations and interdisciplinary projects. Digital communication technologies enable researchers to communicate and exchange data with colleagues around the world, creating electronic collaborations that can catalyze progress. By making it possible to address more complex and integrative questions, these technologies also catalyze interdisciplinary collaboration. As one indicator of this trend, consider the growth in the number of authors on research papers over time. Over the course of 40 years, according to a computerized analysis of millions of published science and engineering papers, the number of authors for papers in the sciences nearly doubled, from 1.9 to 3.5.8 In the environmental sciences, the fraction of papers with multiple authors rose from 25 percent to 82 percent; in economics, it rose from 9 percent to 52 percent.

Collaborations have also become more international. In 2003, 20 percent of all research publications had authors from more than one country, compared with 8 percent in 1988.9 Citations to literature produced outside the author’s home country rose from 42 percent of all citations in 1992 to 48 percent in 2003.

However, the most far-reaching effects of digital technologies are not evident in traditional measures of research collaboration. Researchers—and especially young researchers—are developing new ways to interact with each other and with the subjects they study.10 They exchange information in virtual


The 2020 Science Group. 2006. Towards 2020 Science. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation. Available at


Stefan Wuchty, Benjamin F. Jones, and Brian Uzzi. 2007. “The increasing dominance of teams in production of knowledge.” Science 316:1036–1039.


National Science Board. 2006. Science and Engineering Indicators 2006. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.


Carolyn Y. Johnson. 2008. “Out in the open: Some scientists sharing results.” The Boston Globe, August 21, p. A1.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement