Last month we revealed the hot and emerging fields in academic research, according to a report entitled Research Fronts 2020 – produced by Clarivate with the Chinese Academy of Science – and provided information on geographic and institutional performance based on the companion report Active Fields and Leading Countries.

This month we conclude the series with an overview of the STEM sciences.

Agricultural, plant and animal sciences

Top topics includefood science and engineering, animal infectious diseases, plant physiology, crop science, medicinal plants and animal nutrition. Food science and engineering prevail, in particular food processing methodsand smart packaging. Crop science ranks high, especially how to control heavy metal pollution. The therapeutic effects of plant extracts on diseases is an emerging field, alongside animal nutrition and wellbeing. Research reflects the growth of the world’s population and the increasing demand of food on a global scale. Countries more active in this areainclude China, followed by the USA, the UK, Italy and Spain.

Astronomy and astrophysics

Top research fronts include black holes, dark matterand dark energy, the origin and evolution of the universe,celestial bodies, extra-terrestrial life and gravitationalwaves. Four strands of research involvegravitational wave observations and theoretical studies, aswell as investigating the properties of black holes andneutron stars. Other hot topics focus on the precise mapping of the Milky Way by the Gaia space mission, the measurement of the Hubble constant and the Comet 67Pobservation by the Rosetta spacecraft. The USA prevails, followed by Germany, the UK, France and Italy.

Biological sciences

Leadingresearch fronts comprise nervous system diseases, intestinal microbiologyand human diseases, multidrug-resistant bacteria,depression, cancer-related basic research, protein targeteddegradation, carbonic anhydrase inhibitors and gene editing technology. Research on nervous system diseases prevails. Cancer-related research continues to be a hot subject, as well as Alzheimer’s disease. The USA leads, followed by the UK, China, Germany and Australia.

Chemistry and material science

Topresearch fronts include organic synthesis and optical materials, with six specialty areas: catalysts, batteries,nano biomaterials, biodegradable materials, chemicaltechniques and wastewater treatment. Gas separation and purification rank high as they are crucial in chemical processes, alongside energy storage and 2D materials. Battery research focuses on zinc-air batteries, while in nanobiomaterials, photoacoustic imaging is a hot topic for 2020. The leading country in this area is China, followed by Singapore, Germany and South Korea.

Clinical medicine

Top research fronts focus on cancer prevention and treatment, therelationship of gut pathobionts with human diseases, oralGLP-1 receptors for diabetes and organ transplantationfrom HCV-infected donors. Other hot topics include newtargeted-therapy drugs for common chronic diseases, earlydiagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases, medical artificialintelligence and deep learningin ophthalmology. The USA is the strongest performer, followed by UK, Germany, France and Canada.

Ecological and environmental sciences

These include two sub-areas: environmental-science, investigating the analysis, treatment and risk of pollutants and ecological-science, studying ecosystems. Prevailing themes are water environments, pollutants and multidisciplinary solutions to environmental concerns. Hot research fronts include sewage-treatment theory and technology, as well as the threat of environmental pollutants, especially mercury emissions and aerosol. Forest wildfires and the management of invasive species have been hot topics for the past three years. The USA leads, followed by China and Germany – India and Australia are in the fourth and fifth places.


Leading fronts focus on geology, in particular “Research of injection-induced seismicity” and “Mineralogy of the Martian crust at Gale Crater with the Curiosity mission”, which have been popular for a number of years. Artificial Intelligence has been applied to conduct geological research since 2017, for instance in the analysis of landslides, soil moisture products and photosynthesis. Marine sciences and climate change are also hot fields.The USA is the most active country, followed by France, the UK, Germany and China.

Information science

Top research fronts focus on deep learning, reinforcement learning, mobile edge computing, unmanned aerial vehicle communications and image processing. This is an interdisciplinary field that is also applied to humanities and social sciences.Mobile edge computing, a technology based on the 5G evolution architecture, has been supported by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute. A key hot field is the “AlphaGo Zero’s reinforcement learning algorithm”, a core technology of machine learning, applied to board games, robots, unmanned driving, machine translation and human-machine dialogue. China leads, followed by the USA, the UK, Canada and Singapore.


Hotresearch fronts comprise optimal estimation method of sample mean, chimera states onneural networks, properties and solutions of partial differential equations, Bayesian multilevel modelling, optimal control of probabilistic Boolean network and iterativealgorithm for the variational inequality problem and the fixed point problem. While some topics have been constantly popular, optimal estimation method ofsample mean, Bayesian multilevel modelling in statistics and chimera states on neuralnetworks in nonlinear systems are emerging subjects. China is the most active country, followed by the USA, Saudi Arabia, Greece and South Africa.


Leadingfronts include condensed matter physics, high-energy physics,quantum physics, theoretical physics and optics. Hot topics comprise twisted bilayer graphene, high-order topologicalinsulators and superconductors, two-dimensional van der Waals magnets, the direct detectionof dark matter, tetraquark and pentaquark states. A new focus on hidden-charm pentaquark states and the application of machine learning in quantum many-body physics are emerging fronts. Research in optical materials is still a hot topic. The USA leads for all fronts; China, Japan, Germany and Switzerland follow.

To find out more about our books and journals in a specific field, visit our home page and click on Subjects.