Starlite, the material that could have changed the world (and the war)
Article image cover credits: Historic Mysteries
Have you ever heard of a substance called Starlite? What about Maurice Ward, the hairdresser that invented it? It is (or was) a material that claimed magical properties. It could apparently withstand and isolate from extreme heat. When we say extreme, we mean really extreme! The material resisted a 10.000ºC laser beam test during a live demonstration on an episode of the BBC’s TV program Tomorrow’s World, aired in 1990. The test was undertaken by the BBC presenter Peter Macann and consisted of painting an egg with a mysterious plastic coating that would protect the egg from the flame. When the segment aired, it became infamously known as “The egg test". Not only did the egg resist catching fire, but it was still raw inside. Even more incredibly, Macann held the egg with his bare hands just after turning down the laser. The egg was only slightly warm. Check out the episode below:
The unknown paint substance that was used in the test remains a mystery even today. Starlite is often called “the wonder material” or the “blast-proof material". For a long time many believed it to be the coating that could have changed the world. But who invented it? Where does it come from? And why didn’t it change the world?
Starlite: The blast-proof material created by a hairdresser
It wasn’t actually a board of scientists who discovered this amazing material. In fact, it was amateur British inventor and former hairdresser Maurice Ward. The revolutionary aspect of this invention was that the coating was very resistant to high temperatures to the point that it could potentially be used to make tanks, ships and aircraft impervious to the effects of nuclear weapons at quite close range. This could have been a game changer in military applications if only we knew Starlite ingredients.
A material such as that of Starlite has been the holy grail of chemical research for decades. Scientists from the world's greatest laboratories have spent countless amounts of time and resources trying to create such a substance or trying to find what Starlite is made of. The most extraordinary part of this story is how Ward created Starlite. As a hairdresser, he was familiar with certain chemical substances. In his personal workshop, he would often mix different materials to create his own shampoos and hairsprays. One day he came across a formula that stump the most renowned scientists in the world.
Lab tests and BBC's Tomorrow’s World: Was Starlite a hoax?
Maurice Ward tried contacting chemical companies to present and test his findings with little or no success. It was after the BBC decided to feature his material on an episode of “Tomorrow’s World” that everything changed. After the episode aired almost every coating producer in the industry was puzzled. Ward was contacted by renowned institutions such as the Atomic Weapons Establishment (an organization responsible for the design, manufacture and support of warheads for the United) and the Imperial Chemical Industries (which was a British chemical company and, for much of its history, the largest manufacturer in Britain). They attempted to contact him with the hopes of figuring out what this secret formula was. Both of were granted the possibility of testing Starlite but, unfortunately, nothing came out of these tests.
Even NASA was eager to conduct tests but Ward always kept his creation confidential. Despite the high number of offers to purchase the rights to the idea or to register the patent, Starlite remained a secret. Ward never shared his formula and there was no record or lab notebook left behind which documented it. No one knows exactly what Starlite is made of or what other things it could have been used for. This fascinating coating may have changed the world but has never seen the light of day. What a pity, that we will never discover Ward's plan. What could it have been?
Starlite: An unsolved mystery
This whole story leaves us with one open question: who was this man? A hairdresser who was sitting on a goldmine? The fanfare created around Starlite tantalized potential bidders yet never achieved its anticipated commercial success. Did he wait too long to accept an offer? We can only imagine the number of amateur inventions which may have been created or might be created in the future which have the potential to change everyone’s life forever.
To learn more on this mysterious material, watch below BBC's reel on Starlite.