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An Author’s Arrival

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, which is a unique Travancore institution started in Kottayam to give financial security to writers. That writing meant money gave 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, getting a job 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 got involved with developing and promoting applications of plasma techniques in the industrial and environmental context. With the strongmotivation to communicate all that exciting knowledge to industries, I started a newsletter called Plasma Processing Update. 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. The fact that it has survived all these years is a true indication of the passion of the practitioners of plasma processing in their work and their commitment to engage with the industry.

It was around that time that I gave a talk titled “Plasma Science and the Creation of Wealth” in a meeting in Rajkot. After the talk, I was approached by one of the publishers in Rajkot asking whether I would like to expand my talk into a book. The dream, permanently lurking in the subconscious suddenly emerged into the light and I decided to start writing a book.

What I had in mind was a book which discusses the versatility of plasma as an enabling tool for industrial, manufacturing, environmental and engineering applications. It should be an introduction to the technology, practice and the commercial aspects of plasma-assisted manufacturing. The book was meant for the agents of change in the present-day society, entrepreneurs, businessmen, consultants and technocrats. 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 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 next two chapters discuss physics and chemistry of the Plasma State. Chapters 4-8 are devoted to the aspects of plasmas as a manufacturing tool. The next 17 chapters deal with specific applications in a variety of industrial and environmental contexts. Each chapter is organized with an area of application as the focus. The relevant processes and plasma reactors are discussed in some detail. Wherever market data was available, I made a point to discuss that. The applications are deliberately chosen 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. The chapter titles were consciously chosen to evoke the link between applications and everyday life.

Taming the Lightning implies how lightning is brought down to earth in the form of laboratory plasma devices and sources. The Nitride Shield discusses nitrogen alloying of steel to create extremely hard surfaces. Engineering the tools describes surface engineering to create new functional surfaces for complex applications. The Plasma Car Wash describes how 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 as well as 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. 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 the book was published by Tata McGraw-Hill in 2005. The book did reasonably well, though I was disappointed by the publisher’s lack of enthusiasm in promoting the book. Personal efforts succeeded in selling many copies. It was a surprise to me when I found a copy of the book on the online Google Books.

I was invited by the National Institute of Design 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.

Prof. Shouguo Wang from the Institute of Microelectronics, Beijing approached me indicating that he was interested in translating the book into the Chinese language. Originally the idea was to have the reputed publisher ‘Science Press’ to publish the book. However, Prof. Wang later decided to publish the book himself. We agreed that The Chinese language version shall be a true translation of the original English language version and shall mention all facts concerning the authorship of the original version. I came to know through my Chinese colleagues in ITER that the book was published and was a success. However, it took some time before I could settle all the terms with Prof. Wang.

My second book also had its origin in a talk. I was invited to talk at the 33rd DAE Safety & Occupational health Professionals Meetorganised by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board in November 2016. This was the “Dr S. S. Ramaswamy Memorial Endowment Lecture” and the title of the talk was “Energy and Environment: Plasma Processes for Decarbonization”. I discussed the importance of emerging plasma-based technologies in reducing carbon intensity in fossil fuel-based energy systems. This was put up on the AERB website and I was approached by LAMBERT Academic Publishing in Germany with their interest in publishing the book. I added material on all plasma-based processes relevant to clean energy and a clean environment. This was electronically published and all I had to do was to give them a pdf version of the book. The physical copies would be printed only when there is a demand for them. So, no stockpile of books as in conventional publishing. The cost of the book, however, was a steep 36 Euro.

**My third book is a collection of poems with the title “Feng Shui and Other Poems”. An electronic publication through the efforts of my son Joseph is available from Lulu in New York. I published another version with the help of Aji Bhaskaran Nair who designed the layout and printed the book in Kottayam.

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. When it comes out as a published book, it is a moment of great self-revelation.

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