A Hairdresser's Surprising Invention with Enormous Potential. Hoax or Real?
In the world of inventions, many of the discoveries we enjoy today came about as a result of mistakes or in the quest of the production of another device. Remember the everyday product found in the kitchens of many modern homes- the microwave? Yeah, that little box with the capability to turn our cold dinner into a sizzling piece of delight in seconds. That device is courtesy of Percy Spencer, a naval engineer during the World War 1. He was tinkering, as most engineers are wont, with a magnetron, an item that produces microwaves used in their radar antennas when he felt a slight tingle on his thigh where the chocolate in his pocket is. He pulled out the chocolate and noticed the chocolate is now melting. It did not take him long to arrive at the culprit; the microwave radiated by the magnetron. In 1950, which makes it five years of more tinkering in that direction, a patent aptly titled "Method of Treating Foodstuffs" was given to Percy and viola we have the microwave ovens, the saver of every guy out there that detest a long wait in the kitchen :)
Well, not every scientific invention will be done by guys with science or engineering degrees. Sometimes, a man known for making his wig whose only background/education in science can only be traced to some decade-long employment as a forklift driver in a chemical firm may unexpectedly find himself in the history books of inventors. A turn of events that started when he was out in his backyard doing some good old cleaning up exercise. Maurice Ward, the hairdresser-cum-inventor, after the cleanup, decided to burn the litter, but in the process, he noticed a particular object in the fire that did not burn. Intrigued by this phenomenon, and being somewhat fascinated to come up with material that is both heatproof and fireproof after the 1985 Manchester air disaster in which a passenger jet carrying 137 people burst into flames after the pilot heard an unusual sound during takeoff and aborted the flight. Fifty-five of the passengers did not survive the inferno and toxic smoke inhalation from burning chemicals. An investigation revealed the possible cause of the incident was a failure of the jet's left engine and a subsequent breach of the fuel tank which led to the inferno.
Inspired to stop another disaster of this nature, Maurice went about inventing a fire-resisting material and was working on various non-toxic plastic composites looking for that combination that will give off the property he sought: the property of thermal insulation and heat resistivity.
After many trials and errors, finally he hit the mother lode, and a wonder material in paste form was born. It was known as starlite.
Once this paste is put on an object, that object could withstand temperatures over 10,000-degree Celsius and not melt and give off lethal fumes. You may not have to take my word for it, just head over and watch this old youtube video of the inventor himself using a blowtorch on an egg coated with less than 5mm thick starlite, the egg inside was revealed to be still liquid after five minutes of applying heat/fire from the blowtorch! This incident suggested that the blowtorch was unable to heat up the egg sufficiently enough to make the inside's harden or even break the less than 0.4mm eggshell. He was able to touch the surface exposed to the heat immediately with no burn as the temperature did not rise sufficiently enough to do that. Hence a miracle product is created, and Mr Maurice is now on his way to riches, or so it seems then.
Well, the first step in this type of business is convincing people that you have something that works. But you will agree with me that if a hairdresser comes to you to inform you that he has made a new invention in material science which may change the world. I doubt you may give the person much attention. But his credibility woes came to an end when BBC aired his invention in their long-running series, Tomorrow World a science tv series which true to its name shows cutting-edge science and technology developments/inventions which may likely be a subject of interest in the future (tomorrow).
As soon as the broadcast by BBC aired live, there was increased interest by various people. Chief amongst them were Boeing company, NASA and AWE (the British Atomic Weapons Establishment.
The AWE wrote a review of the test on starlite which was published on the International Defence Review Magazine in 1993 titled Taking the heat, astonishing results with new material. A scanned copy of the magazine can be found on the starlite website here. The AWE subjected the starlite to a temperature in the neighbourhood of 10,000-degree celsius. The temperature was the aftermath of a simulated nuclear flash of 400kcal/cm2/s, (l) energy. The starlite substrate withstood this tremendous temperature and offered protection.
Now starlite can now not only protect aircraft against fire; the application is endless as linings in missile launchers, act as armour for cables used in ship, can help reduce the effect of the atmosphere on aircraft, as a fire retardant in homes, etc. But there was one problem, Maurice refuses to release a patent to the item and also does not leave the starlite with people testing it with the fear he can't commercialise it since they may be able to reverse engineer it and leaving him out in the cold regarding financial compensation.
In 2011, Maurice died, and the starlite was never patented neither did he realise the dream of being a millionaire via his invention. In the science community out there, there are divided opinions. Some say it is a hoax, while others believe it is real judging by the test on air and various agencies that tested his claim. I found a particular passage online which you may find interesting regarding the reason we never get to see starlite in the application.
I would share it with us here.
Having read a recent article on Mr Ward I've decided to leave a brief & factual synopsis of why Mr Ward's product never came to fruition. Mr Ward came to my lab about a year before his death needing help to turn what was essentially a party trick into a useable & commercialy viable product. The problem he had was although the powder component did exactly as it said on the tin, he had found no way of applying a lasting coating. All he really has was some powder mixed with PVA glue, the problem being that although you could apply it to certain objects it's longevity was no more than 2 weeks. While testing we discovered that a sample he'd kept for almost 10 years could be destroyed in a matter of minutes under a methylacetylene-propadiene propane blowtorch. Unfortunately after many samples & tests we where unable to find a effective application method & we parted company on good terms. Sadly this is the true reason why Mr Ward was never able to sell or bring his incomplete product to market. But rest assured, as of this time I can say that there is at least 1 complete & superior product in testing, testing that so far is going remarkably well. So one day there will be a product on the market that will save life's while also having countless other uses. The inspiration behind this project.... Mr Maurice Ward
Anon, London GB A Comment in The Guardian
Now, what do you think? Do you believe it is a hoax? Do you think it is real and that humanity had just lost their chance on a remarkable invention? Please share your thoughts below. Thank you.