An Author's Arrival
Recollections on the genesis and birth of a book on the science, technology, practice and the commercial aspects of plasma-enabled material processing and manufacturing. Children dream of becoming pilots and football stars. My childhood dream was to become an author. The novelist Karoor Neelakanta Pillai was my neighbour. Karoor worked at the Writer’s Cooperative, a unique Travancore institution that started in Kottayam to give financial security to writers. Writing gave money and social status to writers. Occasional visits to the National Book Stall with its shelves full of books gave me great inspiration to follow the path of writing. With time, this dream faded, ever-present in the subconscious, but at no time showing signs of becoming a reality. With the existential struggles of doing well in studies, getting a PhD, and making a career, writing a book became an ever-receding mirage. I believed that I possessed the basic skills. Years of diligent reading of the Hindu middle under my father’s tutelage did bear fruit. Writing is an essential skill for a scientist who needs to communicate his discoveries and insights to his peers. I read William Strunk’s Elements of Style many times. All I needed to bring out a book was an appropriate subject.
In the 1990s, I developed and promoted applications of plasma techniques in the industrial and environmental context. I started a Plasma Processing Update newsletter with the strong motivation to communicate all that exciting knowledge to industries. The first issue of the Plasma Processing Update came out in 1994. The early issues were written almost entirely by me. With time came new enthusiasts from among the new staff. After two decades, this newsletter is still going strong, communicating to industries the developments in India on plasma processing and applications. Around that time, I gave a talk titled “Plasma Science and the Creation of Wealth” in a meeting in Rajkot. After the conference, I was approached by one of the publishers in Rajkot, asking whether I would like to expand my address into a book. The dream, permanently lurking in the subconscious, suddenly emerged into the light, and I decided to start writing a book. I had in mind a book that discusses the versatility of plasma as an enabling tool for wealth creation in industrial, manufacturing, environmental and engineering applications. It should be an introduction to the technology, practice and commercial aspects of plasma-assisted manufacturing. The agents of change in present-day society, entrepreneurs, business people, consultants and technocrats, were the target audience. But, unfortunately, a book of this nature did not exist in the literature.
My 8-month stint with IAEA in Vienna gave a boost to the writing effort. I acquired a laptop which came in very handy in the preparation of the book. The excellent library at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the easy internet access were a great support. The draft of a book finally emerged. Following the introductory chapter on the nature of new knowledge-based technologies, the following two chapters discuss the physics and chemistry of the Plasma State. Chapters 4–8 are devoted to the aspects of plasmas as a manufacturing tool. The following 17 chapters deal with specific applications in a variety of industrial and environmental contexts. Each chapter has an area of application as the focus. Description of relevant processes and plasma reactors find a place. Wherever market data was available, I made a point to discuss that. The applications came from proven industrial situations with less importance given to basic studies related to applications. The approach tries to justify the title: Plasma Sciences and the Creation of Wealth. The theme was the potential of plasma technology to create wealth by adding value and reducing waste. I chose the chapter titles to evoke the link between applications and everyday life.‘Taming the Lightning’ describes how we reproduce natural lightning in the form of electrical discharges in laboratory plasma devices. ‘The Nitride Shield’ discusses nitrogen alloying of steel to make the surface hard. ‘Engineering the Tools’ is about surface engineering to create new functional surfaces for complex applications. The ‘Plasma Car Wash’ describes how the etching of surfaces using plasmas produces hyper-clean surfaces required for advanced manufacturing of microchips. ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ explains new initiatives in plasma textile technology improving cotton and organic polymer textiles. ‘Harvesting the Sun’ talks about the plasma mediated processes for the manufacture of thin-film solar cells. ‘Inside Intel’ is a look at the role of plasma processing in microelectronic manufacturing. Finally, ‘Shiva’s Third Eye’ analyzes the role of plasma as the ultimate destroyer of hazardous waste. It took me three years to complete the book, and Tata McGraw-Hill published the book in 2005. The book did reasonably well, though I was disappointed by the publisher’s lack of enthusiasm in promoting the book. Nevertheless, personal efforts succeeded in selling many copies. So it was a surprise when I found a copy of the text on the online Google Books. The National Institute of Design invited me to talk about my book. I started by quoting Ezio Manzini from his 1986 book Material of Invention. “Every object made by man is situated at an Intersection of lines of development of thought With lines of technological development” and explained how the book discusses new materials and modified materials from the perspective of the plasma processing as the technological tool.
Professor Shouguo Wang from the Institute of Microelectronics, Beijing, approached me, indicating that he was interested in translating the book into Chinese. Originally the idea was to have the reputed publisher ‘Science Press’ publish the book. However, Professor Wang later decided to publish the book himself. Therefore, we agreed that The Chinese language version shall be an accurate translation of the original English version and shall mention all facts concerning the authorship of the original version. Through my Chinese colleagues in ITER, I learned that the book was published and was a success. Walter Mosley says, “I think that everyone can write a book. … if they do, the writing of that book will change their lives.” Though he said this in the context of writing fiction, I believe it can be generalized. Writing demands a certain kind of mental and emotional discipline. Then, when it comes out as a published book, it is a moment of extraordinary self-revelation.