An inventor who “accidentally” discovered the material used in bulletproof vests will be remembered for an invention that has since saved thousands of lives.
Stephanie Kwolek, an avid chemical scientist who had a keen eye for detail, discovered the life-saving material in 1964 while searching for an alternative to steel wires used in car tires. The aim was to make tires lighter and therefore more fuel efficient amidst an impending gasoline shortage that occurred in the 1970s.
Today we mourn the loss of a great innovator. Stephanie Kwolek was a chemist who discovered DuPont™ Kevlar®, an advanced…
While trying to convert a solid polymer into liquid, a thin and opaque mixture was produced that left both her and her colleagues dumbfounded.
“The solution was unusually (low viscosity), turbid, stir-opalescent and buttermilk in appearance. Conventional polymer solutions are usually clear or translucent and have the viscosity of molasses, more or less,” Kwolek said in a 1993 speech.
Innovation is woven in our history: more than 50 years ago, the discoveries of DuPont scientist Stephanie Kwolek led to the invention of Kevlar®.
Usually, this solution is thrown away; however, Kwolek convinced her colleagues to test the solution. After the solution was removed, it then hardened, and further tests revealed that it was five times stronger than steel by weight.
“I never in a thousand years expected that little liquid crystal to develop into what it did,” she told USA today in 2007.
The solution, poly-p-phenylene terephthalamide, was released commercially in 1971 under the trade name Kevlar.
The significance of this discovery led to an investment of $500 million by chemical company DuPont, which saw the production of lightweight bulletproof vests, high-strength tirecord, reinforced boat hulls, and other structural parts.
The next 20 years would see Kwolek head the Polymer research at DuPont’s Pioneering Lab until her retirement in 1986.
Please join us in wishing a very Happy Birthday to Stephanie Kwolek! She and her team invented #Kevlar in 1965. Read more about her invention here: http://dptn.ws/6033ZoUL
Kwolek did not profit from her Kevlar discovery, but instead signed over the patent royalties to DuPont.
Her bulletproof vest has since saved the lives of over 3,000 police officers since the 1970s, a DuPont spokesperson told the New York Times.
This bullet resistant-vest made with DuPont™ Kevlar® was worn by Special Agent Eric Evers. Evers was struck by five…
Born to Polish immigrants in 1923, Kwolek was raised near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she later graduated with a science degree in chemistry in 1946. Her father, John Kwolek, was an avid naturalist whom she credited her interest in science with.
Kwolek had considered a career as a fashion designer but was advised by her mother, who was a seamstress, that Kwolek was “too much of a perfectionist” to be in the industry, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry.
After graduating, Kwolek was offered a job at DuPont but intended to stay on temporarily until she could study medicine. However, she decided to continue her work at DuPont after she found the work to be interesting.
“I really wanted to study medicine,” Kwolek recalled. “[B]ut I didn’t have enough money to enter medical school. I joined Du Pont as a temporary measure, but the work turned out to be so interesting that I stayed on.”
Happy birthday, Stephanie Kwolek! Kwolek invented Kevlar® and she is remembered as a pioneer for women in science. Her invention has contributed to the protection of millions worldwide. #womeninSTEM
Kwolek received many awards for her achievements, including the Chemical Pioneer Award from the American Institute of Chemists (1980), and DuPont’s Lavoisier Medal for outstanding technical achievement (1995). She was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1995 and was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 1999.
In 2014, she passed away at age 90 after a lifetime of achievements and her contribution to science—she has since become an inspiration to many.
Saddened by the loss of a true pioneer, DuPont said in a statement on June 19, 2014: “We are all saddened at the passing of DuPont scientist Stephanie Kwolek, a creative and determined chemist and a true pioneer for women in science.
“She leaves a wonderful legacy of thousands of lives saved and countless injuries prevented by products made possible by her discovery.”
In an interview with the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Kwolek said: “When I look back on my career I’m inspired most by the fact that I was fortunate enough to do something that would be of benefit to mankind. It’s been an extremely satisfying discovery. I don’t think there’s anything like saving someone’s life to bring you satisfaction and happiness.”
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