A just-published article in Environment and Pollution presents a fascinating analysis of global research collaboration on the problem of vapor intrusion. This is an area that has, in the US, received significant research support from the NIEHS through its Superfund Research Program (SRP). In fact, the analysis makes clear how funding specifically to The Brown University SRP has had an enormous impact in terms of worldwide publications on the topic. The paper describes both the total research productivity (in terms of publications) of various groups as well as the linkages that have developed between the different groups throughout the world, using social network analysis (SNA).
In terms of worldwide research paper productivity in the vapor intrusion field, the Brown University group was at the very top (Table 3 of the paper). In fact, the top author was Eric Suuberg, followed by Yijun Yao (a former Suuberg student and postdoc), and Kelly Pennell (another former Suuberg postdoc and now Director of the University of Kentucky SRP). Also on the list of top authors was Rui Shen, another former Suuberg group student and postdoc. Brown University itself was second only to the US Environmental Protection Agency in terms of total publications in the field.
The analysis of worldwide cooperation in the field showed strong cooperation between Brown University, Zhejiang University in China and the University of Rome “Tor Vergata” in Italy. This comes as little surprise, because it was a collaboration between these three institutions that has led to development of new vapor intrusion screening tools, available as “freeware” at pvitools.net. In terms of cooperation between individual authors it was not surprising that the connection between Suuberg and the former Brown researchers Yao and Pennell (now both field leaders at their own respective institutions) features very prominently.
It was noted that how in the US, programs such as the Superfund foster collaboration within the knowledge network. The analysis did, however, point to the fact that the collaboration network could use strengthening in some of its linkages, both in terms of academia and “field practitioners” and between different countries. In particular, there was a recommendation that there be more collaboration between what were termed “high income” countries (such as the US) and those of “middle” and “low” income.
But in closing, what the analysis in this paper clearly demonstrated was how strategic selection of funding in critical areas of environmental concern, such as that by NIEHS in the vapor intrusion field, can have a major impact in terms of advancing the science in that area as well as fostering significant international collaboration in addressing the topic.