Over the last two centuries, the United States has led the way in glass research. But according to a study, for last decade, the U.S. has played second fiddle to China in that regard.

Graph via International Journal of Applied Glass Science (Click to read study)

John C. Mauro of Corning Inc.’s science and technology division teamed with Edgar D. Zanotto of the Federal University of Sao Carlos in Brazil to compile an article in the most recent issue of the International Journal of Applied Glass Science, titled “Two Centuries of Glass Research: Historical Trends, Current Status, and Grand Challenges for the Future.”

In the study, the researchers considered the publications cataloged in the “Physical Sciences” library of the SCOPUS (Elsevier) bibliographic database, as well as the Web of Science (Thomas Reuters Scientific), and narrowed the glass-related publications down to a few-hundred-thousand based on a process designed to weed out irrelevant articles. Based on the broken-down data, the researchers write that within the last decade, “China has become the clear dominant player in the global glass research community.”

The U.S. has the greatest cumulative number of publications dating back to 1850, though the output from Chinese institutions “has grown precipitously in recent years, surpassing that of every other country.” According to the study, the U.S. produced 21,524 publications in glass research from 1850-2013, with Japan and China second and third with 14,113 and 13,685, respectively. However, from 2010-2013, China produced 4,751 glass-related publications, while the U.S. produced 2,454—barely half of China’s output.

“The precipitous rise of Chinese research has coincided with a distinct slowing of the growth rate in the United States,” reads the study. “While this slowdown in the United States is troubling, the situation is dramatically worse in several of the other top countries, including Japan, Germany and Russia, all of which actually produced fewer research publications in 2001-2010 compared to 1991-2000.”

Meanwhile, according to the study, the most prolific institution regarding glass-related papers has been Tohoku University in Japan.

In addition to the publications research, Mauro and Zanotto also performed a search of patent literature using the Derwent Innovations Index (Thomas Reuters Scientific) spanning the last 50 years and obtained approximately 370,000 patents for review. According to their findings, glass-related patents have been growing steadily over the last half century and have surpassed the rate of published articles related to glass.

The study included a chart of the 20 companies in the world that have been granted the most glass-related patents from 2010 to 2013, and the list is dominated by Japan and other Asian companies. Asahi Glass Co. led the way by a large margin, while Corning (U.S.), Saint-Gobain (France) and Schott AG (Germany) were the only non-Asian companies in the top-20.

Mauro and Zanotto concluded that “It will require a great concerted effort to counteract this decline of scientific industrial research and also the recent weakening of fundamental research activities in the United States and other historically strong countries. On the other hand, the number of patents issued worldwide has surpassed the number of published scientific articles. This demonstrates the very high level of activity on (practical) technological research.

“It is our hope that a renewed focus on glass and materials education, starting at a young age, will help encourage more students to pursue careers in science, technology, and engineering.”