I would like to know if there is any scientific field that focuses exclusively on scientific instrumentation research? I know that each field (and sub-field) has its own instrumentation and apparatus, but my question is about the existence of a community that explore the nature and the methodological sides of those instruments.

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    @ldop11 have a look at Massimo's profile, while you wait for his answer, and read it twice. ;) – henning -- reinstate Monica Jun 4 at 13:22
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    @MassimoOrtolano - including the Review of Scientific Instruments... – Jon Custer Jun 4 at 14:31
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    Is "metrology" what you are looking for? – Michael Stachowsky Jun 4 at 17:24
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    Excellent question. Perhaps the hardest thing to explain is that there are consistent ways to measure things and that one can get better at it and be able to prove that. One of the true mysteries of physics. – Captain Emacs Jun 5 at 11:27
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    The accepted answer is about instrumentation in the physical sciences. The question seems broad enough to support an answer about instrumentation in the social sciences (i.e., measurement theory, IRT, survey design, etc.). Is that your intent? If not, it would be nice to specify in the question that you are only interested in a certain domain of science. If you are open to that, I may post an answer in that vein. – indigochild Jun 5 at 17:02

Yes, there exist such a field, but actually the development of scientific instrumentation is transversal to many fields. Note, however, that one typically specializes in scientific instrumentation of a certain kind. With just one life available, one cannot cover all types of instruments!

One specific field is that of metrology. Metrology is the science of measurement, and many metrologists are involved in the development of measuring systems and methods for accurate measurements. For instance, as my profile says, I'm a metrologist and I work in the field of primary electrical resistance and impedance measurements. I spend most of my time developing devices and measuring systems for that quantity, and for the realization of its unit, the ohm. Metrologists also collaborate with the industry, to improve the development of certain types of instruments. It's not uncommon that measuring systems that were once developed by research laboratories can be now bought as off-the-shelf instruments from various companies. In a few institutions around the world, and especially in Europe, one can find PhD programmes or schools dedicated to metrology.

However, not all scientific instruments are dedicated to accurate measurements, and many instruments are also developed by researchers working in specific disciplines. So, for instance, particle physicists may collaborate with engineers to develop particle and radiation detectors. As I said, the development of scientific instrumentation is really transversal to many fields.

It is common for those who work at the development of instrumentation to have a degree in engineering or physics, but these are not the only possibilities indeed. You definitely need a broad knowledge, though.

You can find papers on instrumentation on certain dedicated journals, but also in journals about specific disciplines. Some dedicated journals are the following (list by no means exhaustive):

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    Can confirm, I'm about to start a PhD in single photon metrology – Persistence Jun 5 at 12:43
  • Do you know a good book on metrology? I was looking for one a while back and couldnt find. – lalala Jun 6 at 19:42
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    @lalala Metrology is a vast discipline and there's no comprehensive book. However you can find some good specialized books. If you're interested in the foundations of the current revised SI and quantum standards, this one is a very good book. Good general papers can be found also in the Proceedings of the International School of Physics "Enrico Fermi", courses CX, CXLVI, CXLVI, CLXVI, CLXXXV and CXCVI. – Massimo Ortolano Jun 7 at 6:39
  • @lalala If you're interested in a specific topic, let me know, I'll suggest you a book on that topic. – Massimo Ortolano Jun 7 at 6:40
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    For an introduction to measurement and instrumentation, see for instance Measurement and Instrumentation: Theory and Application by Morris & Langari. Also of possible interest: Handbook of Modern Sensors by Fraden. (For those reading these comments and not yet experts.) – J W Jun 7 at 15:12

There are a few communities that focus exclusively on instrumentation for social sciences (survey development, etc.) - from a quick Google Scholar search, the journal Measurement Instruments for the Social Sciences seems to be fairly on-target for what you're describing. However, given how much instrument development intersects with experimentation, you're likely to find that a fair portion of instrument development research isn't being published in specialty journals like the one I referenced, but rather in broader-scope journals where there's still interest in that type of research (due to its applicability) and a larger readership base (which, if you're the person publishing the article, will hopefully lead to more citations, etc.!)

Therefore, if you happen to know what specific type of instrumentation development you're interested in - e.g. testing methodologies for education research, evaluation metrics for AI/anthropomorphic robots, general principles for the design of experiments/statistics - I'd suggest taking a look at journals and books in those specific fields, since that's where members of the instrumentation development community will often aim to publish. A few examples of what these types of papers/books look like:

There are, of course, many more papers out there like these; I just picked a few that were reasonably well-cited and which weren't hidden behind a paywall. A great way to find some of the high-profile authors and journals in your community of interest would be to look through the literature make note of the journals/authors that are frequently cited in the articles you read; usually this will give you a pretty good feel for the culture of the academic community in that field as well, as more diffuse communities (i.e. ones where researchers in the field don't interact too much - possibly because of how niche their work is) often have fewer shared citations among their articles compared to tight-knit or well-established academic communities (where researchers either know each other well, or are otherwise typically familiar with a central 'canon' of work).

If, however, you're less interested in the practical/applied aspects of instrument development methodologies, and instead find the theoretical aspects more appealing - you might want to take a look at statistics research (since it plays such a large role in experimental design, and determining what makes a scientific instrument successful). There are quite a few papers on the design of social science instruments from a statistical perspective, so that may be of interest to you as well.

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