With new articles published in journals every week and scores of labs constantly at work, scientists at this university stay productive.
And a new ranking has found that university researchers live up to that standard — when it comes to science research, this university is one of the most prolific in the world.
The Nature Index, published by the prestigious science journal Nature, ranked this university highly among universities and research institutions around the world based on scientific productivity, or the amount of research output in science fields.
This university ranked 19th — right between Princeton and Cornell — among all U.S. institutions, and is the sixth-highest ranking public institution on the list, according to the index.
The index also listed this university as 35th among all institutions and 22nd among all universities in the world.
For Patrick O’Shea, vice president for research and chief research officer, this is a sign of the transformation this university underwent throughout the past several decades.
“We have taken our place among the great institutions of the world,” he said.
Though the university has taken time to build its reputation, O’Shea said, the flagship university of the University System of Maryland consistently excels in the sciences among other fields. O’Shea attributes this to the university’s emphasis on conducting research, hiring skilled faculty members and raising expectations for students.
“If you look at the data, we’re really doing a great job,” he said, “and this is not by accident because we’ve been putting strong focus on the quality and impact of our faculty and student scholarship and research.”
The Nature Index compiled the rankings based on the number of studies the institutions had published in the 68 most highly regarded scientific journals in the world from October 2013 to the end of September. This university published 731 studies in these journals during that year, according to the index.
The university also placed highly in the physical sciences subcategory, where it ranked ninth out of all national institutions, including NASA and the Smithsonian Institution.
Stuart Vogel, astronomy department chairman, said he was particularly pleased with the performance from the researchers in his department, which ranked second among public universities, he said. There were so many publications in astrophysics journals that the Nature Index weighed such contributions less heavily to keep the entire index from being skewed toward space science, he said.
Vogel attributed the department’s success to the amount of federal funding it received for projects as well as its collaborations with nearby institutions.
“[The ranking] recognizes the enormous amount of scientific activity that takes place at the university,” he said. “It’s a great environment in which we work, we have these strong collaborations with NASA Goddard — that’s kind of our advantage here. And these collaborations are mutually productive.”
James Farquhar, a geology professor at this university, was a co-author on a study published in April in Nature that looked at fragments from a Martian meteorite that landed on Earth. The researchers were interested in where the sulfur isotopes on this meteorite were from, and he and his colleagues determined they were Martian in origin, he said.
Karen Carleton, a biology professor, also said she has benefited from partnerships at this university. Her work with African cichlids, fish ranging from tilapia to colorful zebra cichlids, led her to collaborate with university neuroscientists.
She studies how vision can help these fish distinguish their own kind among more than 2,000 cichlid species in Lake Malawi. Carleton’s husband, Thomas Kocher, is also a biology professor who studies cichlids, and they decided to come to this university together.
“We wouldn’t have come here, but they made a really great offer,” said Carleton, who was a co-author in a September Nature study. “They built this whole fish facility that enabled us to do things we hadn’t been able to do before.”
In the Biology-Psychology Building lab, there are now hundreds of fish comprising 20 species, which Carleton and Kocher constantly keep up with and feed them, even on Christmas day.
James McFarland, a biology post-doctorate researcher, is the lead author on a September Nature Communications study that developed a method to track microscopic eye movements and allow for further research on how neurons in the visual cortex represent information.
McFarland said he chose to work at this university for the chance to work on this specific research.
The national rankings serve as a kind of “feedback loop,” which means high rankings draw successful researchers, and in turn, they contribute to better rankings, O’Shea said. He said he hopes these Nature Index findings — including this university’s ranking as second among the Big Ten and second in the country for universities with a medical school — will continue to increase this university’s reputation.
“Rankings matter to us in terms of recruiting students, recruiting faculty and recruiting staff,” O’Shea said. “People want to be winners and they want to associate with winners. If you’re a top student, a top faculty member, a top athlete, you want to go to the top schools.”
O’Shea noted that when Charles Benedict Calvert founded the Maryland Agricultural College — which would eventually become this university — in the 1850s, he said he had wanted it be an institution that was second to none. Though it took time to happen, O’Shea said, the university has now realized this hope and has distinguished itself not only in science, but in the arts and other fields as well.
“That vision was there at our founding, it’s just now, in this generation,” O’Shea said, “we can say we’re one of the top research institutions of the world.”