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November 12, 1996

Physics Department ranks highly in national analysis of citation rates

Scientific papers published in the 1980s and early 1990s by UCSC physicists were among the most highly regarded in the country, according to a recent study.

The Physics Department ranked seventh for the "citation impact" of papers published between 1981 and 1994. Some analysts view this measure--the average number of citations per paper--as the most objective way to gauge the quality of a department's research.

When researchers publish a journal article, they must cite previous papers by other authors that set the stage for their work. Generally, a paper earns more citations when scientists accept the work as important and well done.

Physicists at Tulane University compiled the statistics and published their results in the October 1996 issue of Physics Today. They claimed that other methods to rank departments, such as a major National Research Council (NRC) study released in 1995, overlook the high-quality research often done at relatively small universities. The NRC surveyed researchers across the country to rank the reputations of departments in numerous disciplines.

Tulane ranked third (out of 101 physics departments) in its own study with an average of 20.1 citations per paper. However, the NRC survey ranked Tulane 115th (out of 147). Other departments with large differences include those at Brandeis (sixth in the new study, but 42nd in the NRC survey) and UCSC (seventh, 47th).

UCSC physicists published 709 papers during the study period and earned 13,068 citations, an average of 18.4 citations per paper. The top-ranked universities, Princeton and Harvard, received an average of 20.7 and 20.4 citations per paper, respectively. Those universities, and others in the top twenty, published thousands more papers than did UCSC physicists from 1981 to 1994, leading to greater overall influences on the field. (Click here to view table of the top-ranking twenty universities in the survey.)

Physicists at UCSC are known for their work in theoretical and experimental particle physics and condensed-matter physics, astrophysics, cosmology, and nonlinear dynamics.

UCSC also has fared well in broader analyses of citation rankings. For example, the campus placed third among U.S. universities for the citation impact of papers published between 1981 and 1991 in all physical-science disciplines, trailing only Harvard and Princeton.

--Robert Irion