Asked by: John Ecclestone, Grimsby
In 1990, the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World featured a white, sticky coating with astonishing heat-resisting properties. In a demonstration, a raw egg painted with the stuff stayed raw in the heat of a blowtorch. Known as ‘Starlite’, it was the invention of a British amateur chemist called Maurice Ward, a hairdresser from Hartlepool who developed it after observing how some materials behaved in bonfires.
The TV demonstration sparked huge interest, with potential applications ranging from fire protection for skyscrapers to spacecraft heat shields. Tests by defence scientists in the UK and USA confirmed its abilities, but Ward would only give vague details of its composition, saying that it contained over 20 chemicals – mostly carbon-based – along with some ceramic material. Ward died in 2011, having failed to strike a deal with any manufacturer. An American company called Thermashield claims to have acquired the rights to Starlite in 2013, but to date it has not brought any products to the market.