In 1965, Stephanie Kwolek created what we now know as Kevlar, a durable plastic that has over 200 applicable uses, including protective vests, ropes, cables, and vehicles. Her invention of this super synthetic fiber is a very important discovery for the plastics industry.
Kwolek was born in 1923 in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. Her father passed away when she was ten years old, and her mother, who was a homemaker, stepped up to become the breadwinner for the family. She was always interested in fabrics and sewing, but directed her attentions toward chemistry and teaching.
When she graduated high school, she was accepted into the women’s college at Carnegie Mellon University, where she studied chemistry. She applied for The DuPont Company and got the job working with polymers.
At The DuPont Company, Kwolek worked on several projects involving discovering new polymers. She also worked on the polymerization process for preparing nylon. Later in her career, she was asked to work on the development of fibers that could withstand extreme conditions. She discovered that under certain conditions, quite a few of the molecules would form a liquid crystalline solution. When this solution was spun into fibers, it made them very stiff and strong. This breakthrough led to the invention of Kevlar.
For her invention of Kevlar, Kwolek won many awards, and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1994, and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2003. She is a mentor to young women and helps children develop an interest in science and chemistry. A children’s book called The Woman Who Invented the Thread That Stops the Bullets: The Genius of Stephanie Kwolek.
Stephanie Kwolek passed away at age 90 in Delaware.