Universities and research institutes are often located in the heart of cities, and with good reason: they offer access to a rich talent pool of researchers, proximity to other scientific institutions and industry. They are integral components for driving an urban economy.
It is no surprise, therefore, that some of the world’s largest cities dominate the leading Science Cities based on research output in the Nature Index. China’s capital city Beijing again sits at the top of this list, with its research institutions collectively scoring a Share of 3,735 in 2022 for publications in the 82 natural-science journals tracked by the database. Several of the world’s other major urban centres occupy spots in the top 20, with New York, Shanghai, Tokyo, Paris, Seoul and London all featuring.
But, despite the clear scientific and economic advantages of having research institutions cluster in large conurbations, there are growing concerns over how science in cities benefits populations who live far from the hustle and bustle. In some countries, these questions have fed into the urban–rural tensions underlying national political trends, such as the rise of populism.
Research can, of course, bring crucial progress and benefits for rural communities, and this supplement identifies projects where this is apparent. From rooftop solar panels helping to alleviate poverty in Chinese villages to research-backed interventions improving the health of rural immigrant and Indigenous populations in the United States, scientists can show their worth through meaningful impact on the ground.
Every example of science demonstrably changing lives in such settings can only help to chip away at any resentment that might have grown between people living in cities and elsewhere.
We are pleased to acknowledge the financial support of the Beijing Municipal Science & Technology Commission, Administrative Commission of Zhongguancun Science Park in producing this supplement. As always, Nature retains sole responsibility for all editorial content.