The Yale Faculty of Engineering — known for its small size and rocky history — bested many of the nation’s leading engineering schools in a recent study of research impact, surprising even the program’s closest admirers.

Research by Yale engineering faculty was cited in more papers over the last five years than research produced by any other U.S. engineering program, according to the study by Science Watch magazine. Yale ranked first in the study based on its “relative citation impact” — Yale’s average citations-per-paper score from 1997 to 2001 compared against the world impact average in the engineering field. The University of California at Santa Barbara, Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology and Harvard University followed closely behind in the ranking, which examined the nation’s top 100 universities.

In 1997, Yale ranked only eighth in the same study, behind Indiana University, New Mexico State University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Utah, Harvard, Cornell University, and Caltech.

“Scientists turn frequently to papers by Yale authors for research findings that they judge to be applicable, significant and useful,” said Christopher King, editor of Science Watch. “Even though Yale’s volume of papers in engineering may not be as high as some other schools, those papers, pound-for-pound, tend to wield a high influence in the research community, as judged by how often other scientists read and cite them.”

Despite the top ranking in the Science Watch study, Yale’s Faculty of Engineering lags behind its competitors in the more widely-read U.S. News & World Report annual rankings. In 2003, Yale’s undergraduate engineering program ranked a disappointing 44th, well behind the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, which ranked first and second respectively.

Yale’s graduate engineering program ranked 39th, also behind MIT, which ranked first, and Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley, which tied for second.

The relatively small size of Yale’s engineering program significantly hurts it in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, Ma said.

“If they keep that kind of criteria, we will always be cut short,” said T.P. Ma, chairman of the Department of Electrical Engineering. “We are at a disadvantage. We can do slightly better by increasing our faculty size and trying to improve our image. We are small but strong”

The Faculty of Engineering’s top ranking in the Science Watch study comes during its 150th anniversary, a time that many consider a high point in the program’s history. With a surge in faculty and student recruitment and a new engineering building in the works, both engineering professors and students said the Faculty of Engineering is on an upswing.

Phil Levin ’06 said this was an exciting time to be an engineering major. He said Yale’s new dedication to science and engineering is what attracted him to come here.

“What the rankings show is not the strength of the engineering program, but the uniform quality of the professors because each paper produces so many citations,” said Levin, an electrical engineering major. “There are few ‘dud’ professors.”

The Faculty of Engineering — which is composed of the Applied Physics, Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering departments and the Biomedical Engineering and Environmental Engineering programs — has been working on a number of “hot” projects in recent years.

“We work on things on the frontiers of science and technology so that people care about our research,” Ma said. “Since we are small, we need to be selective. So you focus on things that will make the greatest impact. In 10 to 20 years, hopefully these will be hot topics.”

Students said the the Faculty of Engineering’s small size provides unusual opportunities. Goran Lynch ’06 said he has opportunities to do work here that his friends at other schools, such as MIT and Harvard, do not have.

“I think a lot of the professors enjoy teaching undergraduates and they are interested in talking to us,” Lynch said. “You can work in labs anytime and there are tons of nice facilities.”

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