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Starlite (wikipedia.org)
244 points by ricardobeat on Sept 17, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 71 comments


> 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.

The best heat resistant materials we have available to date are ablative materials. These materials "shed" particles of themselves as heat(kinetic energy) is applied.

It looks like starlite while able to withstand more extreme temperatures, also ablates at relatively normal temperatures. From my quick research, this looks like, this is responsible for its longevity issues.

EDIT: relatively normal temperature meaning a blowtorch vs. a rocket nozzle or re-entry heatshield

> 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.

So, this person heard a huge, "Whooosh" when Graphene hit the scene too, eh? "It's just Scotch Tape and pencil doodles!"

I definitely Want To Believe. World-Changing technology always has its detractors. Remember the airplane? Silly, silly invention.

The quote is incomplete. Right after all that, he says:

>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

I'm not sure when this comment was written, but perhaps he was talking about Graphene.

The meeting happened in 2010, going by the fact that it happened one year before Mr. Ward's death.

from Anon in London, UK? that's a reliable source?

I'm skeptical. There are a lot of bullshit free-energy and reactionless drive "inventors" who exhibit the same pattern. Super secretive and paranoid that the traditional scientific review process will steal their invention, will only allow third parties to experiment under very controlled conditions, etc, won't produce working patents, etc. Remember Dean Drive?

I often think they either known they're peddling something bogus and are straight out charlatans, or they actually really believed in what they have, but are too afraid of it being debunked.

Science and secrecy don't go together. A material with twice the melting point of tantalum halfnium carbide sounds like an ablative heat shield to me.

I remember the Dean Drive. Does anyone else remember the Dean Drive?

What sort of scientific Scrooge chooses to take his invention to the grave like that? What has he gained in the end?

> What has he gained in the end?

Nothing. Most dead people, not matter what they "achieved" in life, gain nothing in the end. They are just dead.

The idea that your goal in life is to leave a "legacy" is not universal. Life happens as it happens. Apparently for this "scientific Scrooge" it didn't happen in a way that enabled him to share his invention, so when the time came, he just took his invention to the grave.

Same thing most likely happened numerous times in history with inventions, works of art and other "legacy items" we never heard about...

Ages ago I spent a fair amount of time considering what would happen if someone invented a new power source. I was planning to try to write a short story based on the idea. In my imagination I invented a device the size of a fridge freezer capable of powering a small town for 100 years. The workings and science were irrelevant, but the politics of it was what interested me.

I cant find the notes I made now, but essentially I ended up deciding that something so revolutionary, if proved and accepted as doing what it said on the tin, would take a life of its own. I came to the conclusion that once people know of its existence, the inventor will lose all control and become an instant target. Such inventions are the "babies" of such inventors, so loss of control is an issue. Becoming a target, more so. I'm not sure what the people who did the science that lead to nuclear stuff intended or thought, but if it were me, the idea that my science was used to make such evil devices as nuclear bombs would at the very least cause me trouble.

Interestingly there is some relevance to what is happening now with the NSA internet spying issue. People may well look at this sort of behavior and conclude that there are no limits for certain nation states. So, if a Belgian, for a random small country example, were to invent such technology, and say this person decided that only small poor countries could have access to it in order to equalize small poor countries with rich ones, how might the likes of China, UK, USA, India, etc, react to that? What would be their limit to acquire such technology? The second you deploy such a unit, spies would be all over it. Perhaps, war. So in the end, unless you do as told, your good might end up slaughtering millions.

Now, I'm not saying that starlite was or is for real, or that the inventor thought this way, but I can certainly see why such an inventor might be so paranoid as to get in to a position where the secret dies with him.

Of course I am very open to the idea that this says more about my personal psychology that any general point...

That's more or less the premise of Atlas Shrugged. John Galt (one of the protagonists) invents a device just like that.

In the sci-fi novel 'Friday', Robert Heinlein writes about a physicist named Daniel Shipstone who realised that 'the problem was not a shortage of energy but lay in the transporting of energy. Energy is everywhere—in sunlight, in wind, in mountain streams, in temperature gradients of all sorts wherever found, in coal, in fossil oil, in radioactive ores, in green growing things. Especially in ocean depths and in outer space energy is free for the taking in amounts lavish beyond all human comprehension.'

In the story, Shipstone quits his job, retreats to his basement and invents a technology that packs 'more kilowatt-hours into a smaller space and a smaller mass than any other engineer had ever dreamed of. To call it an "improved storage battery" (as some early accounts did) is like calling an H-bomb an "improved firecracker."'

Like Ward and Musk [1], Shipstone eschews patenting his new technology in order to deny others the opportunity to steal it (or tie him up in court cases) and instead begins manufacturing the devices (eponymously named "Shipstones") which end up becoming ubiquitous, powering everything from flashlights and automobiles, to households and ocean-going ships. The company he founds becomes the largest and most powerful industrial conglomerate in the galaxy and the method of manufacturing Shipstones remains a closely-held secret.

[1: http://www.businessinsider.com/elon-musk-patents-2012-11 ]

Elon Musk is by no means the first person to get that realization.

As a theme only things that can be easily reproduced by looking at the very physical nature are patented. If something is easy to reproduce by just looking at the idea or invention itself, that is the kind of thing that is commonly patented. Why else do you think the patent ecosystem if full of crappiest and most obvious patents possible.

It hardly makes any sense to patent some thing that is genuinely difficult to figure out otherwise.

You don't even need a scientific breakthrough or difficult bit of engineering to successfully use that strategy. Coca-Cola is one of the more famous cases of a company that chose to keep its "invention" secret rather than disclose it with patent filings. It was common at the time to patent the formulations of "patent medicines", and the 1890s version of Coke was indeed patented, but later formulations were deliberately not patented, in order to keep them secret.

To patentable, it "must be non-obvious to an expert in the field." (A friend is a frmr patent examiner.)

Isn't that already happening now?

Look at nuclear technology. Weapons or other wise, super powers and their allies are always paranoid that developing countries may develop nuclear power and all the edge they have in negotiating anything will just go away.

Inventions like things that control vast advances in science and technology are always going to be much about politics and less about altruistic nature of humans to share the inventions with each other.

Fighting bigger wars to prevent small insignificant wars is the common theme these days.

Nuclear technology barriers are more technological than informational. Finding information on how simple nuclear device works wouldn't be that hard I think. Actually creating a device that would work is another matter.

But here nobody actually knows even the ideas behind this - how exactly this thing works. Which sometimes happens too - e.g. see history here about lithium batteries, which was just recently discovered how they work even though they were in use for years. But there nobody knew that, there wasn't some inventor that hides it.

Once one has lost control what is the value in being a 'target'? You can't really be both.

The steam engine, refrigeration, etc, are all examples of this kind of invention which make their inventors quite well off even if eventually eclipsed by successors.

War is inevitable... don't fret over some invention, if it's useful in war it will be used in war regardless of its other merits. Often the tech transfer is backwards, from war to civilian life.

This reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode called Valley of the Shadow (1963) [1]. A small town possesses a device that rearranges atoms to create or fix anything. The scientist who gave it to them told them to keep it a secret until mankind is totally peaceful. One day, a reporter's car breaks down near the town and he ends up proving that the world isn't ready for the technology.

Of course, you could argue that he reacts so badly because they try to trap him there forever...

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valley_of_the_Shadow

I'm sure he didn't plan to die.

Not having something robust sorted out for your invention to survive your death by the time you're 78 years of age? That's bad planning. Or, perhaps, being a scrooge.

In this particular case, it's probably the fear of not profiting from your invention. Older patent holders I've seen tend to be paranoid or obsessed with the money rather than what they have created.

I remember this being on Tomorrows World (which is a show that needs to come back), and practically every year that memory pops into my head and I wonder whatever happened to it. I think the segment ended with him showing it to NASA.

If I remember correctly, he created it in his garden shed using off the shelf products that you could buy on the high street, and he just started mixing them together and testing the results... and I think hairspray was mentioned as being an important ingredient.

Or maybe my mind is full of holes.

hair products were mentioned: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4nnLP--uTI

Sounds like a recipe for amateur experimentation...or a real Walter White.

This sounds an awful lot like Firepaste https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troy_Hurtubise#Firepaste

There seems to be a common trend among these types of inventors that border on paranoia, eccentricity and at the same time, accidental brilliance.

Sounds like a situation that the patent system was supposedly designed to prevent. But, from the article linked by yapcguy:

> He refused to patent the recipe as that would mean making it public and risking its theft

Wouldn't patenting the formula prevent it from being "stolen"? Or is our patent system truly good for nothing at all?

SpaceX does not patent any of their stuff for the same reason; it can be stolen by people outside of the country and the patent is essentially directions on how to do so.

I forget the quote exactly, but there was an interview with Elon and the lady was asking him about not patenting things at SpaceX. He said something along the lines of "Patents aren't going to do you much good when your competitors are other country's governments".

"We have essentially no patents in SpaceX. Our primary long-term competition is in China—if we published patents, it would be farcical, because the Chinese would just use them as a recipe book."

Source: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/10/ff-elon-musk-qa/al...

I'm sure he's said it a few times. This is the one I was referring to -

> Even more so when he tells us that none of the design innovations in the rocket are patented. “Since our primary competitors are national governments, the enforceability of patents is questionable,”


Depends who's doing the stealing. If you patent something, someone else can read the patent. Then they learn what you are doing. From there, they can either find a way around what you patented, seek licensing from you, or blatantly copy you. If they copy you or go around what you are doing, you can sue them (provided they are in the country you filed the patent in).

Only in countries where patents hold sway.

And when the largest manufacturing base in the world resides under a political system with and spotty record on patents and copyright, I cannot really blame him.

I hope the info he gave his wife is 100% perfect and that she doesn't let it die on the vine.

It doesn't prevent theft, it just easens getting compensation for theft.

Numerous patent authors have put deliberate errors in the patent to prevent copying.

> Numerous patent authors have put deliberate errors in the patent to prevent copying.

Seems to me anyone discovered doing that should at the very least have their patent annulled and have to return all licensing fees they've made. The whole point of a patent - in theory, anyway - is it's a bargain, a contract between an inventor and the rest of society. In return for getting a monopoly on an idea for 20 years, you have to thoroughly publicly document it, so that after your 20 years is up, the idea becomes open to all.

Putting deliberate errors in a patent "to prevent copying" is trying to get the benefit of this bargain without paying the price. It's a fraud on society.

Teva Canada Ltd. v. Pfizer Canada Inc.[1] is interesting because Teva alleged that Pfizer broke that bargain in their Viagra patent.

The SCC sided with Teva, and in the news at the time it was reported that the patent was now invalid. However the SCC filed a clarification saying that they didn't rule the patent invalid, just that Pfizer's order against Teva producing a generic version was dismissed.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teva_Canada_Ltd._v._Pfizer_Cana....

Patenting a formula prevents it from being stolen legally. Nearly any one on whom you can't enforce the law(like say foreign nation) will now treat your patent disclosures as a recipe book.

Starlite, meet FOGBANK: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fogbank

In 1996, the US government decided that large numbers of its nuclear weapons would require replacement, refurbishing, or decommissioning. Accordingly, the Department of Energy set up a refurbishment program aimed at extending the service lives of older nuclear weapons. In 2000, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) specified a life-extension program for W76 warheads that would enable them to remain in service until at least 2040.[2]

It was soon realized that the FOGBANK material was a potential source of problems for the program, as few records of its manufacturing process had been retained when it was originally manufactured in the 1980s, and nearly all staff members who had expertise in its production had either retired or left the agency. The NNSA briefly investigated sourcing a substitute for FOGBANK, but eventually decided that since FOGBANK had been produced previously, they would be able to repeat it.[2] Additionally, "Los Alamos computer simulations at that time were not sophisticated enough to determine conclusively that an alternate material would function as effectively as Fogbank," according to a Los Alamos publication.[3]

Secrecy: not always a good idea.

Here is the late Maurice Ward's YouTube channel..


Here's a site I've built for an artist who did "Episodes of Starlite" http://stopthebus.org/starlite.

Just read abt Starlite and other Amazing man made substances at this URL thru reddit. http://listverse.com/2013/06/20/10-awesome-man-made-substanc...

Why the downvotes? The other 9 substances on that link are just as interesting.

I recommend people have a look. The video of the amorphous metal is quite interesting.

(Yogrish. I saw the link elsewhere first as well but maybe we're not meant to use the R word here)

Didn't know about R word. sure will take care of it next time.

A cautionary tale for any aspiring entrepreneur who won't share their world-changing idea without a signed NDA.

Ward certainly believes in his product, claiming publicly that it could have prevented the space shuttle disasters. 'Starlite has a Q-value [an energy absorption rating] of 2,470. The space shuttle tiles have a Q-value of 1.' Not only that, but because Starlite is so lightweight – 1mm thick, compared to 75mm for the space tiles – it's actually '2,470 x 75 times better'.


What is a "Q-value" in this usage?

Thanks! But, if that's the case, a higher value means a worse insulator, so why would he brag about that?

(It's also a dimensionful quantity, but the reported value has no units -- maybe it's relative to some specific value...)

I think it's more likely to be a measure of heat absorbed, rather than heat transferred across a boundary. (The Telegraph's wording is "an energy absorption rating"). Starlite is apparently ablative; if this means an endothermic phase change -- the organic polymers vaporizing, without combusting -- it could absorb an extremely large amount of heat. A space shuttle tile is non-ablative (I think?), and can absorb heat only by increasing temperature.

> but because Starlite is so lightweight - 1 mm thick

Just what about a substance determines how thick it is? How thick is concrete, then? Glass?

Is there a reason Starlite can't be manufactured 75 mm thick, and would it then not be even more amazingly effective? Or alternatively, what's the thickness value for concrete? Glass? What's the Q-value of 75mm of paper tissue?

I call bullshit.

Here's a list of the points in the article that jumped out at me as uninformative, pseudo-scientific or misleading:

> a laser beam producing a temperature of 10,000 degrees Celsius.

Scientifically, that's meaningless. It's meant to convey a powerful heat source to the reader, but as another reader pointed out, a strong focused light source on a bit of well-insulated black material might be able to raise it to several thousand degrees; the same source pointed at a well-polished mirror could leave it cold to the touch. In other words, the "10,000" degree figure tells us nothing useful.

> (from the allegedly supporting New Scientist article cited on the talk page): The first thing Lewis and his colleagues did was fire powerful laser pulses at the material.

What person with scientific training would set up a laser to conduct his first test on an unknown material? I admit to not being a professional NASA egghead, but if confronted with a substance alleged to be highly heat resistant, I'd start off by holding a sample of it into a Bunsen burner flame, or better yet pop it into a crucible and into a high-temperature furnace.

If a temperature of 10,000°C had really been achieved, that would have been quite impressive: according to elswhere in Wikipedia, the "best" known heat-resistant ceramics lose stability around 3,000°C.

This Tech Radar article http://www.techradar.com/news/world-of-tech/future-tech/10-m... claims a more modest 2500°, achieved with a blowtorch and not a laser. What are we to believe?

As a (hypothetical) egghead, I would certainly object on moral grounds to using an egg for a scientific test of heat resistance. I would instead strive to measure the two characteristics actually relevant to heat resistance, namely thermal conductivity and thermally induced ablation.

As an amateur scientist completely unprepared for such a test and working out of an ordinary household, I would have urged the inventor to use his amazing compound to coat not a chicken's egg but the tip of a thermometer. And I would have attacked this assembly not with a laser but with a burning match. And I would have reported on how much of a rise in temperature was observed, and in which time.

Certainly no non-crackpot scientist would subject his or anyone's hand to a blowtorching without considerably more convincing previous tests. But maybe that claim about the human hand was just rhetoric - it's hard to tell.

Later in the supporting article, the claim is toned down to a much more modest 1000°C. Still, there's a fundamental problem here with the basic chemistry:

Plastics, or more formally polymers, are organic compounds, chemically held together by covalent bonds. Because of the physics that underlies chemistry, covalent bonds cannot be as heat-resistant as ionic bonds (as found in salts and other inorganic compounds). All-organic diamond is the hardest substance known to man (I think) but burns at relatively low temperatures. High-temperature plastics break down at around 150°C.

If the compound contained a mix of polymers, as stated, then it contained some organic compounds with known low melting/burning points. Mixing several such compounds doesn't make any of them more heat resistant; their chemical properties (including heat resistance) would not be changed unless you'd created new and different compounds that would then _not_ be polymers. Similarly, mixing in about 10% ceramics might change the compound's mechanical properties, and polymer-ceramic composites are indeed useful materials for this reason, but it doesn't change the fact that part of the mix is low-melting, burning, smoking plastic.

I'm sorely tempted to pick a fight on the Wikipedia Talk page as well, where the most ardent defender of the Starlite story lambastes skeptical commenters as "bigoted" and "ignorant."

> a strong focused light source on a bit of well-insulated black material might be able to raise it to several thousand degrees;

Here's some well focused sunlight. It gets to 3500 C. Apparently, "nothing is known that can withstand this".

> Certainly no non-crackpot scientist would subject his or anyone's hand to a blowtorching without considerably more convincing previous tests. But maybe that claim about the human hand was just rhetoric - it's hard to tell.

He appeared on a BBC Radio four programme many years ago (Start the Week with Melvyn Bragg) where they used a blow torch on the material and someone touched the back of it immediately after the torch was turned off.

Is this the same? Man torches hand with 7000+ degree flame and then eats the material: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SO7NVC23Stw

It kind of blows my mind that one (presumably) cannot reverse engineer things like this.

Without a sample, it's not surprising.

Noone can reverse engineer WD40 with plenty of samples.

What do you mean? There are plenty of WD40-work-a-likes on the market.

Additionally, the ingredients to WD40 are on Wikipedia[1] and Wired had a mass spectroscopy done and published even more precise details[2].

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WD-40#Formulation

[2] http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/magazine/17-05/st_w...

It's in the same marketing category as Coca Cola's `secret formula'.

You are right. My mistake. Second link you provided is very informative.

Bonus: What people think they can use WD40 for: http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/household/wd-40.asp

It's amazing how many people use WD40 as a lubricant. It's good for loosening stuck parts, but using it as a lubricant will wear parts quickly.

Interestingly, WD40 is a lubricant. I used to think that since it was a penetrating oil/water sealant it wasn't a lubricant, but that's not actually the case. They even have a "myth" that discusses the idea floating out there that WD40 isn't a lubricant.


I think it's just not very good lubricant. It wears off pretty quickly if you use it to lubricate your bicycle.

It's terrible to use it on bike chains.

It will provide some lubrication for a while, true. But it will also dissolve any of the proper lube that is there, so when the WD40 is chopped up by the chain you'll be left with nothing.

I like the Shimano PTFE dry lube[1] but there are plenty of other brands.


This would make for a great mystery novel.

Sounds like vaporware

Duke Nukem: Starlite

Sounds like aerogel.

Yes, except that aerogel is well-understood, both as to composition and behavior. This stuff is a first-class mystery. Too bad the inventor, good at science, was so bad at business.

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