In the News
December 13, 2023
December 13, 2023
India was the world’s third-most-prolific publisher of research papers in 2022, but it was ranked only 153rd for the number of citations it received per paper. Indeed, in 2020, about 30% of papers from India were not cited at all, compared with 20% in both the United States and China. These trends are mirrored in many other low- and middle-income countries whose researchers struggle to get published in high-impact journals.
But despite this challenging publishing environment, some Indian scientists have produced influential, highly cited studies in a number of fields in the past few years. Here Nature highlights several of these key areas of research that have the potential to improve public health and quality of life both domestically and globally.
Many parts of India have highly polluted air. The University of Chicago’s Air Quality Life Index ranks India as the second-most-polluted nation in the world in terms of air quality, behind only Bangladesh, and refers to Delhi as “the most polluted city in the world”.
To improve India’s air quality, researchers must first develop a deeper understanding of the sources of this pollution and how it interacts with weather systems. Sachin Gunthe, who studies aerosols at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, based in Chennai, has published a series of highly cited papers exploring the composition, formation and distribution of airborne pollutants. In particular, he has studied particulate matter that has a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less (PM2.5), which can create visible haze and wreak havoc on human health, contributing to more than one million deaths a year in India alone.
In 2020, Gunthe teamed up with Narendra Ojha at the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad and his colleagues to investigate seasonal patterns of PM2.5 production and windborne distribution1. Using simulations based on meteorological data, they determined that the sources of pollution change considerably over just a few months. In October, following the monsoon season, most PM2.5 originates from burning biomass in wildfires, agriculture and household stoves, and creates pollution that spreads across northwest India to Delhi and other cities. By December, most PM2.5 arises from industrial and fossil-fuel sources in cities, where it is trapped and accumulates because of the relatively stagnant winter wind patterns. This work shows that strategies to control pollution must address seasonally changing conditions.