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The mystery material that can survive 75 nuclear blasts
Recipe for awe: Coat one egg with Starlite. Blast it with a ridiculous amount of heat until charred black. Crack it open.
- A professional hairdresser and amateur chemist invented an unbelievably heat-resistant coating called Starlite.
- Military applications brought governments running, but the inventor's odd negotiating style ruined discussions.
- Was Starlite lost when he died, or had it already been stolen?
Maurice Ward was a ladies hairdresser and amateur chemist from Hartlepool, Yorkshire, England, and in 1986 he invented a startling plastic coating he called Starlite. Demonstrated on BBC's Tomorrow's World in 1990, Starlite was immediately recognized as a game-changing substance scientists and military personnel had been dreaming of: A material so heat-resistant that it could provide a shield from the heat of nuclear blasts. Up to 75 nuclear blasts, according to Ward. Convinced Starlite could make him rich — and paranoid about his ability protect his formula — Ward never patented his invention so as to avoid publishing its secrets. Alas, however, Ward proved impossible to negotiate with, continually changing his asking price and being extremely difficult about loaning samples for testing. The governmental agencies and industries that rushed to acquire the rights and formula for his mysterious invention all failed, ultimately taking with them the massive payday Ward anticipated. Ward died in 2011.
Starlite’s introduction to the world
On that long-ago Tomorrow's World episode, a Starlite-coated egg was subjected to a ridiculous amount of heat and, though it became charred, it was eventually cracked open to reveal a completely pristine yolk utterly unaffected by exposure to heat. BBC has recently released a set of videos about Starlite, reported by Lee Johnson, called Searching for Starlite. The first segment includes a clip of the material's momentous debut and talks a bit about Starlite's eccentric inventor.
Stumbling into Starlite
Ward's daughter, Nicky Ward McDermott, says Ward got involved with scientific experiments at home as part of his work producing his successful and unique line of women's wigs.
He'd begun working on Starlite in response to the British Airtours Flight 28M air tragedy in 1985. Many of its 55 victims had been trapped in a burning wreckage, and Ward started experimenting with heat-resistant compounds, setting test fires in his back yard to try them out. At some point, he noticed one mixture that just wouldn't burn and he refined it further into a material able to withstand temperatures of 10,000 degrees Celsius without burning, melting, or producing toxic fumes of the sort that proved so lethal onboard Flight 28M.
Ward's claims for Starlite were impressive and subsequently verified in tests:
- Cables coated in Starlite were unbothered by heats of 10,000° Celsius — about the same as a nuclear blast — when tested by the British Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE)
- Starlite-lined eggs were unharmed by the equivalent of nuclear flash and a full-scale explosion when tested by NASA at White Sands New Mexico.
- The UK Royal Signals and Radar Establishment found it impervious to lasers.
As retired British Ministry of Defence scientific officer Keith Lewis is careful to specify to the BBC, Starlite's strength is against heat, non concussion. In other words, it would have no issues with the heat from a nuclear blast, but an object it protects could still be blown apart by the explosion's force.
How Starlite worked
Ward was understandably cagey about exactly what comprises Starlite, though he did say it was a mixture of 21 polymers and copolymers along with some ceramic material.
When struck with heat, Starlite chars and instantly produces a carbon foam that pushes forward toward the heat source. This low-density foam is made of an extremely high-melting point material. Heat is then pushed away from the coated object's surface, and the greater the heat, the thicker the foam layer. "It's a kind of magical material. It's a thin paint, but then it becomes quite a thick, chunky insulating material," says materials and scientist and engineer Mark Miodownik to the BBC.
At least as recently as of 2013, Ward's daughter, Ward McDermott, in partnership with her late father's associate Chris Bennett, operated Starlite Technologies. With a ".org." — that is, non-profit — internet address, they promoted Starlite for use in firefighting, and secondarily in aviation, home protection, space, and the oil and gas industry — Ward senior had offered to help out in response to the BP Deepwater oil spill in 2010. The largest section of the site is devoted to an exhaustive history of Starlite's travails, replete with documentation of inquiries, partnerships, conspiracies, partnerships gone bad, lost life-saving opportunities, and proposals left unexplored. (The site's pages don't seem to have been updated in the last five years, though there's a note saying it's in the process of being re-designed.)
For now, whatever it is that Starlite really is must remain a bit of a mystery, as is the question of whether or not the aerospace industry and military organizations have quietly continued to work with Ward's invention.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.