According to the international ranking service, Leiden Ranking, the USA comes out on top for high impact science.
Out of their top Leiden Ranked 25 universities ranked by the percentage of papers in the top 10% of their respective fields for science overall, the USA had 22 of the top spots.
MIT ranked first and interestingly, UC Santa Barbara was tied for second with Stanford and Princeton, followed by Harvard. I have to admit I had no idea UC Santa Barbara was such hot stuff. Way to go!
The only other countries to break the top 25 were Switzerland with Ecole Polytech Fédérale Lausanne (13), Israel with the Weizmann Institute of Science (23), and the UK with Cambridge at 24th place.
Now of course one can dispute rankings such as these and their methods, but the trends they indicate can sometimes be informative.
I think just as notable as the US dominance in impact was its apparent total failure when it comes to the independent ranking for collaboration.
Only 1 university in the USA broke into the top 50, which was UC Santa Cruz at 41st place. In the top 100 there was also Caltech at 76, Boston Univ. at 84th, Univ of Tennessee at Knoxville at 92nd, and University of Hawaii at Manoa at 94th. Wow, we stink at collaboration apparently.
In contrast Germany (all top 3) and Italy (dominating the top 25 overall) excelled at collaboration.
The USA especially stunk it up at international collaborations. Our best ranked university in this category was Caltech at #108. Sheesh. In fact the only other US university in the top 200 was UC Santa Cruz.
In short, USA research institutions do great work, but do not seem to play well with others.
If you start monkeying around with their parameters, you get somewhat different results but the trends hold. For example, requiring a minimum of 5,000 publications for overall impact gives the following top 5: MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Cal, Caltech, UCSF, Yale, UCSD, Univ Chicago, and Northwestern (in that order). My home institution, UC Davis, ranks #47 in that search.
How does Leiden make these assessments? Check out their Indicators here.