The formation of an academic field is evidenced by many factors, including the growth of relevant research articles and the increasing impact of highly cited publications. Building upon recent scoping reviews of journal publications in STEM education, this study aimed to provide a systematic review of high impact empirical studies in STEM education to gain insights into the development of STEM education research paradigms. Through a search of the Web of Science core database, we identified the top 100 most-cited empirical studies focusing on STEM education that were published in journals from 2000 to 2021 and examined them in terms of various aspects, including the journals where they were published, disciplinary content coverage, research topics and methods, and authorships nationality/region and profession. The results show that STEM education continues to gain more exposure and varieddisciplinary content with an increasing number of high impact empirical studies published in journals in various STEM disciplines. High impact research articles were mainly authored by researchers in the West, especially the United States, and indicate possible hot topics within the broader field of STEM education. Our analysis also revealed the increased participation and contributions from researchers in diverse fields who are working to formulate research agendas in STEM education and the nature of STEM education scholarship.