Three University of Portsmouth researchers studying communication between humans and cats, plastic-eating enzymes and how to brew an espresso – have been ranked as among the most influential in the world for 2020.

Their work has been ranked in the Altmetric Top 100 - an annual list of the research that most caught the public imagination. Altmetric tracked 87.7 million mentions of 3.4 million papers and the Portsmouth research ranked at 35, 39 and 55 respectively.

The annual Altmetric Top 100 highlights research and scholarly commentary published in 2020 that generated significant international online attention and discussion – from patents and public policy documents to mainstream media, blogs, Wikipedia and social media platforms.

The study on the ‘role of cat eye narrowing movements in cat-human communication’, published online in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, showed for the first time that it is possible to build rapport with a cat by using an eye narrowing technique with them. 

Ranked at 35, the study co-supervised by Dr Leanne Proops from the Department of Psychology, provided a rare insight into the world of cat-human communication.

To get three papers in the top 100 highlights the global impact of research at the University of Portsmouth.

Professor John McGeehan, Director of the Centre for Enzyme Innovation

The latest work on plastic-eating enzymes in Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, co-led by Professor John McGeehan at the University’s Centre for Enzyme Innovation, was ranked at 39. In this follow-up to their 2018 Top 100 paper on the enzyme PETase, which can digest single-use plastic bottles, the team fused two enzymes together to create a chimera which can digest this type of plastic six times faster. The research is a significant step forward to creating low energy recycling solutions for the global plastic pollution problem.

Professor McGeehan said: “Given this was one of the most tumultuous years for science on record, with many key articles on Covid-19, climate change and racial discrimination, I wasn't sure if we would make it into this prestigious list. But to get three papers in the top 100 highlights the global impact of research at the University of Portsmouth.”

The final paper featured in the top 100, published in the journal Matter, challenged common espresso wisdom. Researchers created a mathematical theory to brew the perfect cup of espresso coffee. Ranked at 55, the paper was co-authored by Dr Jamie Foster, a mathematician at the School of Mathematics and Physics.

This year's Top 100 represents the most discussed research from all disciplines, selecting the top five works by Altmetric Attention Score from 20 subjects.

Professor Bob Nichol, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation), said: “While we’ve featured before in this list, it is the first time we’ve had three Portsmouth papers in the top 100. This demonstrates again our growing reputation for impactful research and is an outstanding result for our scientists.”