A reader poring over the profiles of this year’s TR35, Technology Review’s annual pick of the world’s top innovators under the age of 35, might be forgiven for humming a few bars of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” We pushed hard for nominations from all over the world, but in the end, the best judgment of the editors and our team of esteemed judges produced a list of 35 people that includes 33 working at U.S. companies or universities. But this seeming American hegemony is illusory. Well over a third of this year’s TR35 are originally from other countries, including China, India, and Singapore.
A pattern emerges from the dossiers of these extraordinary people: a brilliant young scientist or engineer receives a degree in his or her native country and then emigrates to take advantage of the superior graduate schools and richer entrepreneurial opportunities in the United States. But that situation will not necessarily persist. In its latest survey, the Council of Graduate Schools – a Washington, DC-based consortium of more than 450 institutions – reports that in 2005, international graduate applications to U.S. schools are down 5 percent from the previous year, with a particular drop-off in students from China (down 13 percent) and India (down 9 percent). This follows similar declines in recent years.
The reasons behind these numbers are not totally clear. But surely one factor is that the growing economies of China and India are increasingly providing ample opportunities, both in academia and business, for those who stay home.
In the long run, this inevitable outcome of globalization might spur more innovation worldwide. But it is not good news for the United States. As this year’s TR35 remind us, the United States’ ability to draw extraordinary talent from around the world feeds a rich climate of innovation and scientific advancement that everyone in this country benefits from.