Instrumental Lives

An Intimate Biography of an Indian Laboratory

Pankaj Sekhsaria

Instrumental Lives is an account of instrument making at the cutting edge of contemporary science and technology in a modern Indian scientific laboratory. For a period of roughly two-and-half decades, starting the late 1980s, a research group headed by CV Dharmadhikari in the physics department at the Savitribai Phule University, Pune, fabricated a range of scanning tunnelling and scanning force microscopes including the earliest such microscopes made in the country. Not only were these instruments made entirely in-house, research done using them was published in the world's leading peer reviewed journals, and students who made and trained on them went on to become top class scientists in premier institutions. The book uses qualitative research methods such as open-ended interviews, historical analysis and laboratory ethnography that are standard in Science and Technology Studies (STS), to present the micro-details of this instrument making enterprise, the counter-intuitive methods employed, and the unexpected material, human and intellectual resources that were mobilised in the process. It locates scientific research and innovation within the social, political and cultural context of a laboratory's physical location and asks important questions of the dominant narratives of innovation that remain fixated on quantitative metrics of publishing, patenting and generating commerce. The book is a story as much of the lives of instruments and their deaths as it is of the instrumentalities that make those lives possible and allow them to live on, even if with a rather precarious existence.

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Pankaj Sekhsaria

Pankaj Sekhsaria is a member of the environmental action group, Kalpavriksh where he works on issues of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and also edits the bi-monthly newsletter, the Protected Area Update. He is a freelance journalist, photographer and author, most recently, of 'Islands in flux - the Andaman and Nicobar Story' (HarperCollins India 2017) and 'The Last Wave – an island novel' (HarperCollins India 2014). He has authored/edited three other, non-fiction books, two of which are based in the A&N Islands He graduated as a mechanical engineer from the Pune University in 1993 and followed this with a Master’s Degree in Mass Communication from the Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi, in 1998. He was awarded a doctorate in 2016 in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from Maastricht University, Netherlands, for his thesis ‘Enculturing Innovation – Indian engagements with nanotechnology’. The thesis investigates scientific research and innovation practices in five nanotechnology laboratories in India and explores the societal and cultural influences on research and on innovation inside the laboratory. He is currently Senior Project Scientist, DST-Centre for Policy Research, Dept. of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT-Delhi