Archives at the National Centre for Biological Sciences
Public Lecture Series
25th edition
Monthly talks framed around explorations in and around archives. Discussions by artists, archivists, historians, teachers, journalists, scientists and others.
Instrumental Lives: The lab as the site of a historical excavation
Pankaj Sekhsaria, IIT Bombay
in conversation with 
Friday, May 15 2020. 4:00pm.
Registration for online lecture:
For a period of roughly 25 years, starting in the late 1980s, a research group headed by CV Dharmadhikari in the physics department at the Savitribai Phule Pune University fabricated a range of scanning tunneling and scanning force microscopes including the earliest such microscopes made in the country. These instruments were made entirely in-house, often relying on a re-imagination of material found in local markets and other places. The research done using these microscopes would later be published in leading peer reviewed journals, and students who helped build the microscopes went on to become scientists in their own right in premier institutions. 
This talk starts with an intimate biography of Dharmadhikari’s lab. Using qualitative research methods, historical analysis and laboratory ethnography, it is an account of the micro-details of this instrument making enterprise and locates scientific research and innovation within a larger social, political and cultural context. 
The story of this particular lab will be contextualised through and located within the narrative of other sites of science, technology and innovation in the country.  Drawing from six years of research conducted by the speaker across five nanoscience and technology laboratories in India, it will offer a glimpse of the world within these labs, and illustrate the deep influence of societal context on science, technology and innovation. This talk is based on two books: Instrumental Lives - an initimate biography of an Indian laboratory (Routledge 2019), which is an account of instrument making at the cutting edge of contemporary science and technology, and the more recently published, Nanoscale: Society’s deep impact on science, technology and innovation in India (Authors Upfront 2020).
The overview presentation by Sekhsaria will be followed by a conversation with Cyrus Mody, and a discussion session with the online audience. 
This talk is in collaboration with Champaca Books. Pankaj Sekhsaria's book, 'Instrumental Lives', is available here for online purchase and delivery: 
Pankaj Sekhsaria is Associate Professor, Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas (CTARA) & Associate Faculty, Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), IIT-Bombay ( He has a PhD in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from Maastricht University, the Netherlands, where he worked on the 'Cultures of innovation' in nanoscience and technology research in India. His current research interests lie at the intersection of society, science, environment and technology. He is also a member of the environmental action group, Kalpavriksh, and author, The Last Wave (HarperCollins India, 2014), Islands in Flux - the Andaman and Nicobar Story (Harper Litmus India, 2017, 2019) and Nanoscale - Society's deep impact on science, technology and innovation in India (Author's Upfront, 2020)
Cyrus Mody is an historian of recent science and technology, specifically the applied physical sciences in the United States since 1965. He studies the commercialization of academic research, the longue durée of responsible research and innovation (RRI), and the technopolitics of scarcity in the long 1970s. He is a Professor in the History of Science, Technology and Innovation, and chair of the History Department at Maastricht University in the Netherlands (