In 1990, an amateur inventor called Maurice Ward appeared on British TV demonstrating a super-material he’d invented without any scientific training. Called Starlite, it could withstand temperatures of 1000 °C, was hard enough to drill holes in walls, and could easily be painted on to surfaces. In 2011 Ward sadly passed away—without ever having explained to a single scientist how it worked.
So starts an intriguing story, which is told wonderfully by Richard Fisher in this week’s New Scientist. Unsurprisingly, since that first appearance in 1990 Starlite has been of interest to a small but select group of people around the world. In fact, it piqued enough interest that Ward spent time talking with private companies, defense researchers and even NASA throughout the past twenty years.
At first, many scientists were skeptical of his claims, but as time progressed and tests were conducted—under close supervision from Ward, of course—those same researchers softened. In fact, they ended up wanting a slice of Starlite.
But Ward was a tough cookie, and he never found anybody he was happy to hand his secret over to—either through a sense of power or desire for money. When he died, in May 2011, many thought he’d taken his secret to the grave.
But, as the New Scientists article explains, there may still be hope. Ward mentioned in one interview shortly before his death that his family knew about the Starlite recipe. They are, however, remaining tight-lipped—so the future of Starlite seems as uncertain as ever. …
I also saw it on Tomorrows World (now defunct BBC science program), the egg was painted with whats now called starlite and left for the length of the show (30 minutes at least) in the flame from a blowtorch and when cracked at the end of the program it was still completely raw. As I recall the program was live so no trick photography. – ats
From Maurice Ward ‘s now defunct web site:
According to the US Government “Ask a Scientist” website the highest known melting point for any substance is for diamonds at 3800C/6872F. Starlite can withstand nearly 3 times more heat, at least for a while… One difficulty in the manufacture of steel is its high melting point, about 1370C/2500F, which prevents the use of ordinary furnaces. Titanium melts at about 1660C/3020F… If heat is a problem for your company we have the solution that stands up powerfully to fire, lasers, and even atom bombs…
Starlite is a material claimed to be able to withstand and insulate from extremes of heat. It was invented by amateur chemist (and former hairdresser) Maurice Ward (1933-2011) during the 1970s and 1980s, and received much publicity in 1993 thanks to coverage on the science and technology show Tomorrow’s World. The name Starlite was coined by Ward’s granddaughter.
Starlite’s composition is a closely guarded secret, but it is said to contain a variety of (organic) polymers and co-polymers with both organic and inorganic additives, including borates and small quantities of ceramics and other special barrier ingredients — up to 21 in all. Perhaps uniquely for a thermal and blast-proof material, it is not wholly inorganic but up to 90 percent organic. – George, Rose (Apr 15, 2009). “Starlite, the nuclear blast-defying plastic that could change the world”. London: The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved June 11, 2011.
Discussion of hoax possibility on a physics forum:
I find the tomorrow’s world video the most compelling evidence (sound is very low but is there):
Why would tomorrow’s world get in on a hoax? Possibly bribery or wanting to make the show more interesting, but how would they have done it. An unprotected egg pops instantly when a blow torch is applied. At the end of the video he picks up an egg being blow torched, places the exposed face on his palm and breaks it into a bowl all with no camera cuts. Are there other coatings which would allow the egg to survive for a brief time, so that they could have placed a fresh one in front of the blowtorch just before the camera pans back to it?