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Faculty, grad student co-authored textbook lands atop Amazon best-seller list

Writing books is a frequent part of academia for faculty members. What’s rarer is a book heavily co-authored by graduate students. Rarer still is for the book to be a class’ end goal. And perhaps rarest of all is seeing that book land atop an Amazon best-seller list.

Cover of Nuclear Batteries and Radioisotopes.

Mark Prelas, professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, and five of his graduate students — Matthew Boraas, Fernando De La Torre Aguilar, J.D. Seelig, Modeste Tchakoua Tchouaso and Denis Wisniewski — wrote Nuclear Batteries and Radioisotopes, published by Springer Press in its prestigious “Lecture Notes in Energy” series earlier this year.

Mark Prelas, professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, and five of his graduate students — Matthew Boraas, Fernando De La Torre Aguilar, J.D. Seelig, Modeste Tchakoua Tchouaso and Denis Wisniewski — wrote Nuclear Batteries and Radioisotopes, published by Springer Press in its prestigious “Lecture Notes in Energy” series earlier this year. The book spent time as the No. 1 new release in Nuclear on Amazon.

“Nuclear batteries is a growing field and a lot of people are interested in it,” Tchouaso said. “So I decided to take the class, and in the first class, Dr. Prelas said that he wanted the class to write a book on the subject. Most of us thought it was a very good idea. We’re not very experienced in the subject, but it was something we liked to do.”

The book provides a comprehensive look at the past and future of the field of nuclear batteries and use of radioisotopes and is fashioned as a textbook for graduate courses. The subject matter picks up where a previous review paper written by Prelas and his doctoral students on the topic left off, going more in-depth and fleshing out the topics.

Prelas, himself an author of numerous books, took the students through the process of creating an outline for the book and submitting it to a publisher. The team worked together to negotiate the contract, then got to work assembling the material.

“What could I do in graduate education to make it exciting and really help students get a leg up on their career?” Prelas said. “So the authors are graduate students. They took a class from me Fall semester 2015, and the goal of the course was to write a book in an area I was an international expert in. So I took them through the process of writing a book.”

The goal was both to produce a more in-depth textbook in that field while also exposing students to the book writing process. As it turns out, being an author makes for a nice addition to one’s resume and an entertaining conversation starter, as well.

“It definitely feels amazing to be able to do that and share with people some of the knowledge that we’ve put together,” Seelig said.

“I think having the outline and structure of how to compose a massive project like this will translate both if I want to write another book and to projects in industry.”

As he looked down at the book, seeing his name one more time on the glossy cover, Tchouaso beamed with pride.

“I’ll be honest with you, this is the second best thing that’s ever happened in my life, aside from getting the Fulbright Scholarship,” he said. “I’m very impressed. People are reading the book and liking it. We checked Amazon the other day, and it seems they’re sold out of the books that they had.”