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 1000C, was hard enough to drill holes in walls, and could easily be painted onto 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, defence researchers and even NASA throughout the past 20 years.
At first, many scientists were sceptical 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 Scientist 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.