South Korea: Research Highlights

October 2014

A few months ago, ScienceWatch presented one of its regular Weekly Bytes features—in this case, a snapshot of research in South Korea over a recent five-year period.

Now, to mark the addition of the Korean Citation Index Journal Database and its store of literature to the Web of Science, we return for a further look at the nation’s research concentration and a few other highlights.

The table below lists the fields in which papers from South Korea (that is, featuring at least one South Korea-based researcher among the authors) account for the nation’s highest percentages of the overall papers as indexed by Thomson Reuters between 2009 and 2013. In contrast to the earlier Weekly Bytes item, which presented South Korean representation in the highly aggregated, main fields covered in the journal-classification scheme used for Essential Science Indicators, this table reflects a more granular approach, showing the detailed specialty areas as covered in the Web of Science.

Science in South Korea, 2009-2013

South Korea’s world share of science and social-science papers over a recent five-year period, listed according to the nation’s highest percentages of papers from among the 251 specialty areas covered by Thomson Reuters Web of Science. Also, South Korea’s relative citation impact compared to the world average in each field. These figures are derived from Thomson Reuters InCites, a subset of the Web of Science.

Field Percentage of papers from South Korea Number of papers from South Korea Relative impact compared to world average in field
(n = 1.00)
Marine Engineering 11.77 318 0.89
Telecommunications 11.00 5,934 0.72
Cell & Tissue Engineering 8.70 871 0.49
Nanoscience & Nanotechnology 8.67 10,076 0.83
Applied Physics 8.52 20,182 0.88
Integrative & Complementary Medicine 8.47 1,111 0.96
Materials: Coatings & Films 8.42 2,544 0.92
Materials: Ceramics 8.26 1,809 0.79
Engineering: Manufacturing 7.81 1,842 0.84
Materials: Multidisciplinary 7.49 23,354 0.92
Engineering: Electrical & Electronic 7.47 16,078 0.77
Electrochemistry 7.44 4,326 0.98
Asian Studies 7.39 327 0.55
Architecture 7.29 291 1.14
Engineering: Mechanical 7.01 4,817 0.81
Condensed Matter Physics 6.87 9,193 0.84
Computer Science: Information Systems 6.80 3,310 0.60
Horticulture 6.63 1,079 0.45
Transportation Science & Technology 6.53 961 0.85
Multidisciplinary Chemistry 6.50 15,197 0.82
Ocean Engineering 6.22 296 0.61
Computer Science: Hardware & Architecture 6.16 1,262 0.72
Polymer Science 6.03 4,999 0.89
Construction & Building Technology 5.91 1,444 0.79
Metallurgy & Metallurgical Engineering 5.82 4,381 1.07

SOURCE: Thomson Reuters Web of Science

As it happened, South Korea posted its highest representation in a comparatively small Web of Science field: Marine Engineering. In all, only about 2,700 papers were indexed in this field during 2009 to 2013, but more than 11% of them featured South Korea-based authors—albeit with a total barely exceeding 300.

Aside from that somewhat quirky result, the rest of the table demonstrates substantial South Korean participation in fields that reflect a clear concentration in the physical sciences, including Applied Physics and various sub-specialties within Materials Science and Engineering. It is also within these fields that the citation impact of South Korea-based research compares most favorably with the world cites-per-paper figure in each field, as the right-hand column shows.

Despite the preponderance of physical-sciences research, there are still some notable and perhaps unexpected areas of Korean concentration, such as Integrative & Complementary Medicine, Architecture, and Horticulture.


For a closer look at the nation’s influential research, the table below presents a selection of high-impact papers from South Korean institutions. The first portion of the table presents Highly Cited Papers as featured in Essential Science Indicators. These are reports published in the last decade, each ranking among the top 1% most cited for its subject field and year of publication. The second part of the table features Hot Papers, published over the last two years and cited at a level markedly above papers of comparable type and age published in the same journal.

For both portions of the table, the papers were selected based on exclusive representation  by South Korea-based authors (aside from one instance of US collaboration, in the first entry). Of course, this means that many examples of South Korean collaboration with other nations, including participation in large, multinational, “citation blockbuster” papers (in high-energy physics, space science, genomics, clinical medicine, etc.) are not included here.

Selected High-Impact Papers from South Korean Institutions

Highly Cited Papers (Published in the last decade)

Paper Citations
K.S. Kim, et al., “Large-scale pattern growth of graphene films for stretchable transparent electrodes,” Nature, 457 (7230): 706-10, 2009. [Sungkyunkwan U., Suwon, South Korea; Samsung Adv. Tech., Suwon, South Korea; Pohang U. Sci. Tech., South Korea; Columbia U, New York, NY]  3,161
J. Park, et al., “Ultra-large-scale syntheses of monodisperse nanocrystals,” Nature Materials, 3 (12): 891-5, 2004. [Seoul Natl. U., South Korea; Sungkyunkwan U., Suwon, South Korea; Pohang U. Sci. Tech., South Korea] 1,558
Y. Lee, et al., “MicroRNA genes are transcribed by RNA polymerase II,” EMBO J., 23 (20): 4051-60, 2004. [Seoul Natl. U., South Korea; Ewha Womans U., Seoul, South Korea] 1,489
J. Chun, et al., “EzTaxon: a web-based tool for the identification of prokaryotes based on 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequences,” Int. J. Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, 57: 2259-61, 2007. [Seoul Natl. U., South Korea] 1,228
J.H. Lee, et al., “Artificially engineered magnetic nanoparticles for ultra-sensitive molecular imaging,” Nature Medicine, 13 (1): 95-9, 2007. [Yonsei U., Seoul, South Korea] 803

Hot Papers (Published in the last two years)


Paper Citations
S.W. Cho, et al., “Targeted genome engineering in human cells with the Cas9 RNA-guided endonuclease,” Nature Biotechnology, 31 (3): 230-2, 2013. [Seoul Natl. U., South Korea] 170
H.S. Lee, et al., “MoS2 nanosheet phototransistors with thickness-modulated optical energy gap,” Nano Letters, 12 (7): 3695-700, 2012. [Yonsei U., Seoul, South Korea; Kyung Hee U., Gyeonggi, South Korea] 143
J.H. Noh, et al., “Chemical management for colorful, efficient, and stable inorganic-organic hybrid nanostructured solar cells,” Nano Letters, 13 (4): 1764-9, 2013. [Korea Res. Inst. Chem. Tech., Taejon, South Korea; Kyung Hee U., Gyeonggi Do, South Korea; Sungkyunkwan U., Suwon, South Korea 140
X.L. Xu, et al., “Spindle-like mesoporous alpha-Fe2o3 anode material prepared from MOF template for high-rate lithium batteries,” Nano Letters, 12 (9): 4988-91, 2012. [Ulsan Natl. Inst. Sci. Technol., South Korea] 88
D.S. Yang, et al., “Phosphorus-doped ordered mesoporous carbons with different lengths as efficient metal-free electrocatalysts for oxygen reduction reaction in alkaline media,” J. Amer. Chem. Soc., 134 (39): 16127-30, 2012. [Korea U., Sejong, South Korea] 75

SOURCE: Thomson Reuters Web of Science/Essential Science Indicators

Although nanotechnology and materials account for the majority of papers, biomedical reports also register among these Highly Cited Papers, including RNA transcription and experimental genome editing.


Next, we turn to a selection of South Korea-based scientists who have contributed to a notable number of high-impact papers. For this list, ScienceWatch consulted Thomson Reuters, a compendium of authors who, between 2002 and 2012, appeared on the highest numbers of Highly Cited Papers (while also tallying a sufficiently high citation rate to rank among the top 1% most cited in their respective fields).

Highly Cited South Korean Researchers

As identified by Thomson Reuters, based on number of Highly Cited Papers, 2002 - 2012

(Listed alphabetically within each discipline category)

Name Affiliation Category
Dae-Ok Kim Kyung Hee University Agricultural Sciences
Se-Kwon Kim Pukyong National University Agricultural Sciences
Young-Joon Surh Seoul National University Agricultural Sciences
Jinwoo Cheon Yonsei University Chemistry
Taeghwan Hyeon Seoul National University Chemistry
Jong Seung Kim Korea University Chemistry
Kimoon Kim Pohang University of Science & Technology Chemistry
Juyoung Yoon Ewha Womans University Chemistry
Jong-Heun Lee Korea University Engineering
Kilwon Cho Pohang University of Science & Technology Materials Science
Taeghwan Hyeon Seoul National University Materials Science
Yeol Je Cho Gyeongsang National University Mathematics
Shin Min Kang Gyeongsang National University Mathematics
V. Narry Kim Seoul National University Molecular Bio. & Genetics
Kwangmeyung Kim Korea Institute of Science & Technology Pharmacology
Ick Chan Kwon Korea Institute of Science & Technology Pharmacology
Kwangsik Park Dongduk Women’s University Pharmacology
Tae Gwan Park Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology Pharmacology

Source: Thomson Reuters

An additional marker of influential South Korean science can be found in the latest annual selection of Thomson Reuters Citation Laureates—researchers whose achievements and measurable esteem from their peers make them worthy of a Nobel Prize.

Representing the first time that the nation’s scientists have been selected by Thomson Reuters, the 2014 class of Citation Laureates includes two Koreans: chemist Ryong Ryoo of the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, selected for his advances in fashioning mesoporous materials; and Korean-born geneticist Charles Lee, of the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, Farmington, Connecticut, for his findings on the genetic differences known as copy-number variations and how they link to specific diseases.

These two researchers, like all the Citation Laureates, have demonstrated themselves to be “of Nobel class.” Whether one of them ultimately secures South Korea’s first Nobel Prize in the sciences, or the honor falls on another scientist, Nobel recognition in the near future seems assured.

The data and citation records included in this report are from Thomson Reuters Web of ScienceTM. Web of ScienceTM is a registered trademark of Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.