Research institutions and universities are typically situated in the heart of cities, providing access to a skilled pool of researchers, proximity to other scientific institutions, and industry connections. This location makes them crucial drivers of urban economies. It’s no surprise that some of the world’s largest cities top the list of Science Cities based on research output in the Nature Index. Beijing, China’s capital city, leads the way with its research institutions scoring a Share of 3,735 in 2022 for publications in the 82 natural-science journals tracked by the database. Other major urban centers such as New York, Shanghai, Tokyo, Paris, Seoul, and London also feature prominently in the top 20.

While there are clear scientific and economic advantages to having research institutions clustered in large cities, there are growing concerns about how science benefits populations living far from urban areas. This has contributed to tensions between urban and rural communities and underlying political trends such as populism. However, research can bring crucial progress and benefits to rural communities as well. Scientists can show their worth through meaningful impact on the ground, such as rooftop solar panels helping alleviate poverty in Chinese villages or research-backed interventions improving the health of rural immigrant and Indigenous populations in the United States. Every example of science demonstrably changing lives in these settings can help reduce any resentment that might have grown between people living in cities and elsewhere.

This supplement acknowledges financial support from the Beijing Municipal Science & Technology Commission and Administrative Commission of Zhongguancun Science Park for producing this supplement. As always, Nature retains sole responsibility for all editorial content.

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