Students study on the first floor of the new Science and Engineering Complex (SEC) on Sept. 27. The SEC hosts many of the labs contributing to Tufts' high innovation score. (Frank Ma / The Tufts Daily)

Tufts ranks 11th on Nature Index 2017 Innovation list

Tufts University recently placed 11th on the Nature Index 2017 Innovation ranking, which is conducted by the science journal Nature and measures the quality and quantity of research by institutions and universities worldwide. Tufts placed among Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyWeizmann Institute of Science, Stanford University and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), according to the Nature Index website.

Jianmin Qu, dean of the School of Engineering at Tufts, explained the Nature Index’s metric for an institution’s level of “innovation.”

“The Nature Index ranking measures innovation by evaluating the impact and influence academic research has on innovation by determining how many research articles from an institution are cited in third-party patents,” he told the Daily in an email.

Tufts’ research was cited in more than 100,000 patent families within the pharmaceutical industries in 2017 and especially influenced the biotechnology and organic fine chemistry sectors, according to the Lens organization, which holds a database of the world’s patents and developed the metric used by the Nature Index.

Fiorenzo Omenetto, the dean of research at the School of Engineering, explained that these patents, and not only research, contributed to Tufts’ success on the index. The first step in filing a patent is an invention disclosure.

“Beyond ideas and research, researchers at Tufts have generated a large number of invention disclosures and have engaged in connecting with the business world, either by catalyzing startups or by collaborating with existing companies,” Omenetto told the Daily in an email. “This combination of faculty and institutional engagement have helped Tufts become recognized as a leader in innovation.”

Qu said that Tufts earned this recognition by producing notable research in several STEM-related fields.

“Our high ranking is recognition that the research being done here at Tufts is providing a framework and a trusted foundation for significant new developments in industries including healthcare, artificial intelligence and environmental infrastructure,” Qu said. “This comes as no surprise; in 2016-17 alone, the [Tufts Technology Transfer and Industry Collaboration] (TTIC) reported 50 invention disclosures from across the university, with the School of Engineering leading all Tufts schools with 32.”

Tufts has a disproportionately large voice in innovation, with between 400 and 500 scientific publications from 2012 to 2016, according to Larry Steranka, the senior director of TTIC. In particular, he said, much of the school’s research comes from Department of Biomedical Engineering Chair David Kaplan, whose research focuses on biopolymer engineering, and Omenetto, who studies the many uses of silk in his lab. Steranka also mentioned David Walt, a former chemistry professor who pioneered many scientific developments.

“This ranking sends a message to funders of research, both in the commercial and federal funding realms, that Tufts is an impactful place for research money,” Steranka said.

Qu sees the ranking as a positive outcome of years of hard work.

Tufts’ strong reputation as a leader in innovation will help us continue to draw the best and brightest faculty, researchers, and students to our labs and classrooms, and continue to secure funding to provide them with the best possible resources for doing their research,” Qu said. “I’m proud to see Tufts recognized as a global leader, and I look forward to new discoveries ahead.”

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