VSL:SCIENCE // See how scientific disciplines emerge

Twenty-first-century science is generating an unprecedented number of multidisciplinary ideas and fields — and an interesting new paper by a team of physicists, statisticians, and network analysts takes a close look at how these new areas of study emerge.

Led by University of Maryland physicist Mark Herrera, the team analyzed scientific papers from 1985 to 2006 and found that the key element in the rise of subdisciplines was the formation of “cliques” that grew into larger, more lasting “communities” — which cross-fertilized to create yet new cliques and communities. The scientists also found that subdisciplines that produced high-impact ideas tended to have shorter life spans: A transformative idea attracted so many researchers, who spun off in so many directions, that the field soon had to redefine itself.

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