XXXVIII Scientific Instrument Symposium

23 - 27 September, 2019
Havana, Cuba

Report - “Instruments at Crossroads”

The XXXVIII Symposium of the Scientific Instrument Commission will take place from the 23d to the 27th of September 2019 in Havana, Cuba. It will be jointly organized by the University of Havana, the Cuban Chemical Society, the Cuban Physics Society and the Office of the Historian of Havana. It will take place at the University of Havana Convention Center and at scientific institutions in Old Havana.


The Symposium theme is “Instruments at crossroads”. In addition to sessions of 20-minute papers, pitch sessions and poster sessions will also be held.

 Symposium theme: Instruments at crossroads

The invention, construction and use of scientific instruments are often strongly affected by external conditions that depend on time period and geographical location. Climate, for instance, may influence the choice, use and life not only of meteorological instruments but also of all kind of instruments – think of polar, tropical or equatorial locations. Changes in local (or global) economics, politics or agricultural and industrial development, may also shape instruments’ design and making – think of the disruption created by electric trams passing close to urban physics laboratories. We might wonder how such crossroads may bring to instruments obsolescence, innovation, or reconfiguration; how are scientific instruments adapted, reconfigured or created in response to changing external circumstances?

For its 2019 Symposium, the SIC and its local Cuban organizers welcome proposals for 20-minute papers that deal especially with this issue. It also invites members to propose sessions (3-4 papers plus commentary) that explore this general theme. 

Pitch sessions

After the success of pitch sessions at the Dutch 2018 Symposium, the 2019 Symposium will again include such sessions. Speakers have five minutes to put forward their point of view of a subject. After five pitches we turn to an in-depth debate with both speakers and audience. SIC 2019 welcomes proposals for pitches related to the following topics:

Failures. Cases of instruments once regarded as failures were already pitched at the 2018 SIC Symposium in Leiden. Since that rich discussion broadened and raised more and more issues and cases, another session on this topic is proposed to further analyze the concept of failure, its dependence on various factors such as time period, geographical location, individuals, etc., and the presentation of failures in museums and the history of science more generally.

Instruments with a long working life, scientific installations and buildings. Occasionally, scientific instruments of historical value do not move into museums but remain for a long time in their original settings, either unchanged or used in new contexts. Research tools may become teaching instruments, for example. How to deal with instruments remaining in situ? How to deal with installations and buildings such as observatories and accelerators, where the architectural structure becomes part of the scientific instrumentation? In which ways are these cases interesting for history of science or museum studies? What are the problems, potentialities and possible connections with traditional museums?

Of course, as every year, the SIC also welcomes proposals for sessions, papers or posters on any topic dealing with the material culture of science.

Please send abstract proposals, using the SIC abstract template, to the following email address before 1 February 2019: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

We hope to announce the program by 1 March 2019.

The abstract template is available here.