Science institutions are typically located in urban areas, providing access to a talented pool of researchers, proximity to other scientific institutions, and industry connections. This makes them a critical driver of urban economies and explains why some of the world’s largest cities dominate the leading Science Cities based on research output in the Nature Index. For instance, Beijing, China’s capital city, has collectively scored a Share of 3,735 in 2022 for publications in the 82 natural-science journals tracked by the database. Other major urban centers such as New York, Shanghai, Tokyo, Paris, Seoul, and London also feature in the top 20.
While there are clear advantages to having research institutions cluster in large cities from both scientific and economic perspectives, concerns have been raised about how science benefits populations living far from urban areas. These concerns have contributed to tensions between urban and rural populations in some countries and have underpinned national political trends such as populism. However, it is important to recognize that research can bring crucial progress and benefits to rural communities as well. In fact, scientists can show their worth through meaningful impact on the ground by working on projects that address pressing issues faced by rural communities.
For example, rooftop solar panels have been installed in Chinese villages to help alleviate poverty by providing clean energy to households that previously relied on expensive fossil fuels for electricity. Meanwhile, research-backed interventions have been developed to improve the health of rural immigrant and Indigenous populations in the United States. These projects demonstrate how science can bring tangible benefits to people living in rural areas and help reduce any resentment that might exist between those living in cities and elsewhere.
This supplement acknowledges the financial support of the Beijing Municipal Science & Technology Commission and Administrative Commission of Zhongguancun Science Park for producing this supplement. As always, Nature retains sole responsibility for all editorial content.