24 June 2015 Why did I write a book on Adhesion Science?

Why does anyone bother to write a book in the 21st century? Surely everyone gets their information free from the internet?

In the case of my book Adhesion Science: Principles and Practice published by DesTech which came out this week, the free stuff came first. My Practical Adhesion website is full of explanations of the key aspects of adhesion science that are covered in the book. But that's the problem. Websites are great for small chunks of information and for active content such as apps. But they are no good for an extended discussion about a lot of complex issues

So I've tried to create the best of both worlds. A book that allows me the space and coherent format to discuss the science in an integrated manner, whilst letting the reader click over to the relevant app on the website when they want to see the science come alive on the web page. This book/app hybrid seems to me to be the way that all technical books should be published, but I seem to be in a small minority. The ideal would be a book with the apps live on the page. Technically this is possible within ePub3 and I went a long way to producing such a book, but the format is currently too limited and limiting when it comes to the practicalities of getting the live content to actually work within, say, iBooks on an iPad or a Mac. It was my experience of the same book working OK on a Mac and giving stupid glitches in the "same" iBooks on an iPad that convinced me that the whole thing would not work in 2015.

So there are lots of benefits to the reader of this book/app hybrid. But what really impressed me were the benefits to the writer. Writing apps for a web page and writing a brief description around them encourages quick fixes and glib explanations. As soon as I started to write the book, just about everything I'd written around the apps seemed to me to be missing out on some minor or (sometimes) major details. The writing forced me to think much harder. And the result is not just apparent in the book. The apps themselves had to be upgraded once I had a deeper understanding.

Even more, when you write an extended book you have to see the whole of the logic. And this made it clear that I was missing rather a lot of apps, something that wasn't apparent when I first created Practical Adhesion. So the website benefitted from some major additions on topics I hadn't even realised should be included.

Finally, writing a book gave me an excuse to get into deep discussions with colleagues, industry experts and academics. To say "I have this website" is very different from saying "I am writing this book". And because I had some specific ideas for the book I could say clearly what I thought and the experts would (sometimes) agree, which was nice, and sometimes point out that I was wrong, which was even more useful as it was a great way to learn. One expert even saved me from despair. One aspect of pressure sensitive adhesives really bugged me because it looked as though it should be calculable but everyone seemed to ignore the issue. At a conference I met a very famous adhesion scientist and was able to use the book as an excuse to ask him about this topic. He laughed: "Oh, yes, the issue is calculable in principle but there are so many things happening over so many length scales that no one has the ability or processing power to do the calculation. So we all have to accept that we won't be able to solve the problem for many years". To know that it's not currently calculable meant that I could stop worrying that there was an explanation out there which I was missing.

When I started writing the book I was already clear in my own mind what I wanted to say. Then at a meeting a wise physicist said, in the middle of a big argument on an industrial adhesion issue, "But adhesion is a property of the system". As soon as she said that, I could see the whole book rewrite itself - it was a very strange and powerful few moments. That was the thing I had been missing all along. Everyone looks for "the" factor which will make their adhesion good, but it doesn't exist. It is the whole system that matters and, as the book often shows, if you try to hard to improve something you make matters worse because you mess up other parts of the system.

So that's why I wrote a book rather than just provided a website.

The other answer to the question is connected to my belief that industries rely too much on "art" rather than science. Many people still think that they can create a great adhesive through intuition or experience. My experience with such people is that they are often wildly wrong and so waste a lot of time for themselves and their companies. The science of adhesion is not all that hard and is not at all controversial - the principles have long-since been worked out. But the general understanding of adhesion science is almost always wrong. For example, most discussions on adhesion start with surface energy which is a factor of 1000 too small to be of any significance. And many teams focus on just one aspect of an adhesive system (e.g. the interface), totally unaware that other aspects are of equal or higher importance. Therefore the book has been written so that individuals and organisations can see what the key principles are (they aren't difficult) and can apply the relevant ones to their own system. My belief is that this will make the life of those who work on adhesives and adhesion much more productive and far less frustrating.

So I wrote the book because (a) a book has special attributes that are not captured in just a website (though it benefits by linking to it) and (b) I believe that the adhesion/adhesives community can create better products via better science once the principles have been translated from academic (and polymer physics) language into ideas that we can all put into practice.