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How Do Emerging Technologies Conquer the World?

An Exploration of Patterns of Diffusion and Network Formation

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Loet Leydesdorff [1] & Ismael Rafols [2]



Grasping the fruits of “emerging technologies” is an objective of many government priority programs in a knowledge-based and globalizing economy. We use the publication records (in the Science Citation Index) of two emerging technologies to study the mechanisms of diffusion in the case of two innovation trajectories: small interference RNA (siRNA) and nano-crystalline solar cells (NCSC). Methods for analyzing and visualizing geographical and cognitive diffusion are specified as indicators of different dynamics. Geographical diffusion is illustrated with overlays to Google Maps; cognitive diffusion is mapped using an overlay to a map based on the ISI Subject Categories. The evolving geographical networks show both preferential attachment and small-world characteristics. The strength of preferential attachment decreases over time, while the network evolves into an oligopolistic control structure with small-world characteristics. The transferability of the research technology in cognitive terms—that is, the transition from “mode-1” to “mode-2” research—is suggested as the crucial difference in explaining the different rates of diffusion between siRNA and NCSC.


Keywords: diffusion, emergence, research-technology, map, geographical, interdisciplinarity, innovation



[1] Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR), University of Amsterdam, Kloveniersburgwal 48, 1012 CX Amsterdam, The Netherlands; loet@leydesdorff.net

[2] SPRU –Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex, Brighton, BN1 9QE, England; i.rafols@sussex.ac.uk