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From left to right, UD Professors Wendy Smith, Rodrigo Vargas and Yushan Yan have been named to Clarivate’s 2021 global list of Highly Cited Researchers for the significant impact they are having on their academic fields, as evidenced by the rate at which their work is being cited by their peers.
From left to right, UD Professors Wendy Smith, Rodrigo Vargas and Yushan Yan have been named to Clarivate’s 2021 global list of Highly Cited Researchers for the significant impact they are having on their academic fields, as evidenced by the rate at which their work is being cited by their peers.

Researchers with influence

Photo illustration by Jeffrey C. Chase

UD professors named to global list

Three professors from the University of Delaware — Wendy Smith, Rodrigo Vargas and Yushan Yan — have been recognized as Highly Cited Researchers for 2021 by Clarivate, a global analytics company. 

These influencers have had significant impact on their peers and chosen fields, having published multiple papers ranking in the top 1% by citations over the past decade. They are “1 in 1,000” among researchers, according to the company’s data analysis. 

Delaware’s research community, as a whole, has a strong publishing record, with the state’s academic scientists and engineers ranking fifth nationally in their contribution to knowledge, as measured by research article output per 1,000 doctorate holders, according to the National Science Foundation.

“Scholars pursue the noble, critical work of devising studies, analyzing the results and reporting the findings, which generates new knowledge and solutions to improve the quality of life around the world,” said Charles G. Riordan, vice president for research, scholarship and innovation. “We congratulate Wendy Smith, Rodrigo Vargas and Yushan Yan, for the exceptional impact they are having on the research community and in daily life, from business leadership to sustainability and renewable energy.”

Of the 21 fields analyzed by Clarivate, Smith was recognized in business and economics, and Vargas and Yan in the “cross-field” category for substantial influence across multiple areas. 

What inspires their work?

For Smith, it’s the possibility that her work offers people new frameworks to solve their toughest problems. 

“Globally, we increasingly struggle with climate change, economic and racial injustice, and other challenges,” said Smith, the Emma Smith Professor of Management in the Lerner College of Business and Economics. “Embedded in this tug-of-war are paradoxes. How can we respond to contradictory agendas, such as simultaneously attending to social missions and financial goals or enabling stability for today while changing for the future? I study how people draw on ‘both/and’ instead of ‘either/or’ approaches to more effectively navigate these paradoxes and find solutions that are more creative, generative and sustainable. My hope is that this work enables us all to approach the challenges we face in our lives and in our world with more creativity and possibility.” 

Vargas, professor of ecosystem ecology and environmental change in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, studies factors regulating carbon and water in ecosystems around the world to better understand how they will respond to changing climate and extreme events like major storms or drought.  

“My work is inspired by discovering how nature works and how we can find solutions to grand challenges such as climate change,” Vargas said. “This motivation has taken me from coastal ecosystems to tropical forests, and from deep soils to the global scale. I hope these efforts motivate other scientists and next generations to better understand the Earth system and ensure a sustainable future for our planet.”

Yan, the Henry B. du Pont Chair in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in the College of Engineering, has focused his research on developing renewable energy technologies, including more efficient and cost-effective fuel cells to power zero-emissions cars. He is an inventor on a number of issued or pending patents, some of which have been licensed to form startup companies.

“What motivates me most is the desire to make a difference in achieving a renewable energy society,” Yan said. “The level of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship shown by my students, associates and colleagues at UD makes me hopeful and excited every day.”

The methodology that determines the “who’s who” of influential researchers draws on the data and analysis performed by bibliometric experts and data scientists at the Institute for Scientific Information at Clarivate.

This year, 6,602 researchers from more than 70 countries and regions were recognized. The U.S. continues to lead the world in research influence, as home to 39.7% of the Highly Cited Researchers, down from 43.3% in 2018; followed by China (14.2%), which has nearly doubled its share in four years. Rounding out the top 10 are the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, The Netherlands, Canada, France, Spain and Switzerland.

“It is increasingly important for nations and institutions to recognize and support the exceptional researchers who are driving the expansion of the world’s knowledge,” said David Pendlebury, Clarivate’s senior citation analyst and a UD alumnus (history major, Class of 1979). “This list identifies and celebrates exceptional individual researchers at the University of Delaware who are having a significant impact on the research community as evidenced by the rate at which their work is being cited by their peers. The research they have contributed is fueling the innovation, sustainability, health and security that is key for our society’s future.”

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