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This UvA scientist wrote a ‘hot paper’ – how does an article become so popular?

Sija van den Beukel,
14 april 2022 - 11:08

Anyone who thinks about a hot paper might not immediately think of a systematic literature review of CO2 sensors. Yet that was the article from the chemical magazine Journal of Materials Chemistry C. How come? Five questions to the author, associate professor of functional materials Stefania Grecea. 

What was your first reaction when you heard the news?

“At first I was not very surprised because the article was selected as a hot paper'Hot paper' is a term used by professional journals for relevant articles that are frequently read or downloaded. by the editors of Journal of Materials Chemistry C; this usually leads to attention and citation of an article soon after publication. The confirmation that the topic was relevant came earlier when I received the invitation from the editors to submit an article for a special issue celebrating the retirement of Professor Kees van Hummelen at the University of Groningen. But it is a very nice surprise to see that the article has been read so much. I'm very happy about that.”

Foto: Liesbeth Dingemans
Stefania Grecea

What is the article about in brief?

“The article discusses sensors used to measure CO2, and analyses how the performance of CO2 sensors can be improved with the help of metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). MOFs are molecules with hollow spaces in the shape of a cube or pyramid. They consist of metal ions at the vertices with organic connectors. This makes the material work like a sponge; they can absorb, store or release substances. They are also interesting for sensors because they have higher selectivity and sensitivity than existing sensors.”


What made that article the most popular one of 2021? 

“The journal, in this case the Journal of Materials Chemistry C., determines how popular an article is based on how often articles are read and downloaded. This is in general independent of how many citations an article has, in other words, how often other scientists refer to the article.”

“With corona it has become increasingly common to hang a detector in rooms that measures the amount of CO2”

Why is the article so popular?

“CO2 monitoring is a hot topic, but sensors which detect other chemicals have also become increasingly important, especially for air pollution monitoring. Corona is not directly related to CO2 levels, but it has become increasingly common to hang a detector in rooms that measures the amount of CO2. When the CO2 concentration exceeds a certain limit of 5,000 parts per million (ppm), fatigue, headaches, anxiety, loss of energy, weak legs and reduced lung ventilation problems can occur. But CO2 sensors are not only used in indoor environments, they are also used to measure air pollution, in agriculture, fermentation processes and in various industries, for example, to carbonated beer. Sensors are also used in medical applications. For example, blood sugar levels in diabetics are currently measured using an invasive method, but sensors can also measure the amount of glucose in sweat using a non-invasive method. Non-invasive sensors will become increasingly important for medical applications because people will more and more adopt home health care services due to the high costs of medical treatments in hospitals.

In addition, the article is about MOFs, a material with endless applications. You can tune MOFs at the chemical level so that they interact with very specific molecules. In many application areas, sensors with high specificity do not exist yet, and the combination of MOFs with other materials can improve the sensor performance. These things taken together, coupled with the fact that in the article we are trying to find a solution to the challenges of current sensors, make the article popular.”

Systematic literature reviews generally yield better citation scores than a research article. Is that a problem?  

“It is indeed true that if you look in bibliographic databases like SciFinder or Web of Science, you will see that review articles get more citations. But it also depends on the topic, its relevance and how well the article written. I think in principle there is nothing wrong with that. For me, citations are not the primary goal. I aim to be innovative in my work and publish in journals that are well regarded in my research field. I focus on the relevance of the topic or the need to fill a gap in existing scientific knowledge. A good review article provides an overview of the state-of-the-art (current status) of a research area, but also includes a high level of in-depth analysis and gives directions for further research. When I read a scientific article where information has been overlooked, I want to find out if it has already been researched. For scientists who are new to the field, reviews are indispensable. Sometimes you miss the important information, simply because there is too much literature.”