Inventors are inspirational. Stephanie Kwolek was an inventor and chemist. She worked as a research chemist at DuPont. She is best known for inventing Kevlar. Her synthetic fibers have exceptional strength and stiffness. Kevlar has over 200 applications. Many people are aware of its use for bulletproof vests. It’s also used for care tires, fire fighter boots, cut-resistant gloves, airplanes, boats, skis, in buildings, and overtaxed bridge reinforcements.
Stephanie Louise Kwolek was born on July 31, 1923 in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. Her father was a naturalist and she learned a lot from him in her early years. He died when she was ten years old. Despite losing her father, she was able to attend Carnegie Mellon University. She had a major of chemistry and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 1946. Hale Charch, who became a mentor, offered her a job at DuPont’s Buffalo, New York facility. Despite early ideas of becoming a doctor, she stayed because of her research on polymers. In 1950, she moved to Wilmington, Delaware to continue to work for DuPont. After several years of work, she created Kevlar. In 1959, she won an award from the American Chemical Society. By 1971, polymer chemistry work led to modern Kevlar.
Stephanie Kwolek has received many awards and accolades. The DuPont company awarded her their Lavoisier Medal. In 1980, Kwolek received the Chemical Pioneer Award and an Award for Creative Invention. In 1995, she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In 1996, she received the IRI Achievement Award and the National Medal of Technology. The Perkin Medal was given to her in 1997 from the American Chemical Society. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2003. She has received honorary degrees from Carnegie Mellon University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Clarkson University. The Royal Society of Chemistry has honored her and named an award after her that is given to a scientist from outside the UK.
Stephanie Kwolek retired from her work as a research chemist in 1986. She continued to be a consultant for DuPont and served on the National Research Council and the National Academy of Sciences. She had received well-over a dozen patents. She helped in classrooms and invented and wrote about classroom demonstrations after her retirement. Stephanie Kwolek died on June 18, 2014 in Wilmington, Delaware.Her legacy is exploring scientific fields and Kevlar’s use in saving lives. Be inspired! Have a bright day!