Starlite is a material claimed to be able to withstand and insulate from extreme heat. It was invented by British amateur chemist and hairdresser Maurice Ward during the 1970s and 1980s, and received significant publicity after coverage of the material aired in 1990 on the BBC science and technology show Tomorrow's World. The name Starlite was coined by Ward's granddaughter Kimberly. Ward, who died in 2011, revealed the composition of Starlite only to his closest relatives. The material is believed to be a type of intumescent material and products with roughly similar properties are commercially available. The American company Thermashield, LLC claims to have acquired the rights to Starlite and replicated it.
Under tests, Starlite was claimed to be able to withstand attack by a laser beam that could produce a temperature of 10,000 degrees Celsius. Live demonstrations on Tomorrow's World and BBC Radio 4 showed that an egg coated in Starlite could remain raw, and cold enough to be picked up with a bare hand, even after five minutes in the flame of a blowtorch. It would also prevent a blowtorch from damaging a human hand. When heat is applied, the material chars, which creates an expanding low density foam of carbon which is very thermally resistant.
Former Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence Sir Ronald Mason noted, "Maurice sometimes speaks scientific cobblers, but this is really the most remarkable material".[better source needed]
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 material claimed to be thermal and blast-proof, it is claimed to be not entirely inorganic but up to 90 percent organic.
The American company Thermashield, which owns the Starlite formula, stated in a radio interview that Starlite is not made from household ingredients and there is no PVA glue, baking soda or baking powder in it.
Ward allowed various organisations such as the Atomic Weapons Establishment and ICI to conduct tests on samples, but did not permit them to retain samples for fear of reverse engineering. Ward maintained that his invention was worth billions.
Although Ward claimed discussions with various organisations such as NASA, he was very protective of the composition for fear of losing control of the rights to the material (not even letting samples out of his sight). By the time of his death, there appeared to have been no commercialisation of Starlite, and the formulation of the material has not been released to the public. According to a 2016 broadcast of the BBC programme The Naked Scientists, Ward took his secrets with him when he died.
A YouTube contributor NightHawkInLight attempted to create materials that replicate the properties of Starlite in 2018. Observing that the mechanism that generates an expanding carbon foam in Starlite is similar to black snake fireworks, NightHawkInLight concocted a formula using cornstarch, baking soda, and PVA glue. After drying, the hardened material creates a small layer of carbon foam on the surface when exposed to high heat, insulating the material from further heat transfer.
The American company Thermashield has published information on their blog that they acquired all the rights to Starlite from his widow Eilleen Ward in 2013, and have since successfully replicated the material.
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