Credit: David Parkins

A country without science is like a car without an engine: it's not going anywhere. This Outlook surveys the global scene (see page S2) and then embarks on a world tour, examining countries' achievements, and mistakes, as they attempt to harness the power of science for economic growth.

China is focusing on collaborative centres that tap into the success of it's basic research labs and spin out their findings into practical technologies (S8). Australia has travelled a similar path, making strides in capitalizing on its research foundation — but has ended up overcompensating, robbing its basic-research effort to pay for applied work (S14).

Proving that past trauma needn't prevent a robust research effort, just 22 years after the genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda is emerging as a scientific spark plug for central Africa (S4). Countries in the Middle East, long buoyed by oil revenues, are girding themselves for the post-fossil-fuel era (S6). Singapore has made outstanding progress towards putting science at the centre of its economy — but it's not clear how the small city-state can afford to continue on this trajectory (S16).

Countries with revered scientific pasts have their own stories to tell. Post-Soviet era, Russia is struggling to keep its scientific enterprise reputable (S10). Germany has abandoned its tradition of egalitarianism and is giving some institutions elite status, much to the dismay of many researchers (S12). In the United States, applying research to economic development rests largely at the state level — Massachusetts is an example of the dynamism possible with decentralized authority (S18). And globally, leaders need to be mindful of perverse incentives that run counter to research excellence (S20).

This Outlook was produced in partnership with the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC). As always, Nature has sole responsibility for all editorial content.