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 honestly can't encourage you enough to go and read the New Scientist feature: it's a wonderful piece of writing that beautifully brings together science and story-telling. [New Scientist]
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