With e-mail and Skype, it’s possible to collaborate with scientists from around the world. But do teams that interact face-to-face maintain an advantage?

Researchers at Harvard Medical School tested this question by examining 35,000 articles with at least one Harvard author published between 1999 and 2003. They then analyzed citation rates for articles where authors worked in physical proximity. Their findings, published in PLoS ONE, show that location does matter.

As the physical distance between the offices of the first and last author got larger, citation rates for the article got smaller. Because citation is a proxy for significance, the study lends weight to the idea that the most impactful collaborations still happen in shared space. Unplanned and casual encounters matter for effective science.


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