Women Inventors
Inventions By Women - Greatest Women Inventors

Stephanie Kwolek - Kevlar

stephanie kwolek

Stephanie Louise Kwolek was born on the 31st of July, 1923. She is a Polish-American chemist who invented poly-paraphenylene terephtalamide, the rest of us call it Kevlar. Kevlar is used for security and defense in body armor, paintball body armor, bicycle tires, racing sails and many other items.

Stephanie Kwolek was born in the Pittsburgh suburb of New Kensington, PA. Her father, John Kwolek, died when she was ten years old. Kwolek attributes her interest in science to him and an interest in environmental hazards to her mother, Nellie Zajdel Kwolek.

In 1946, Stephanie Kwolek earned a degree in Chemistry from Margaret Morrison Carnegie College of Carnegie Mellon University. Kwolek had planned on becoming a doctor and hoped that she could earn enough money from a temporary job in a chemistry-related field to go to medical school.

In 1946, Hale Charch, a future mentor to Kwolek, offered her a position at DuPont's Buffalo, New York facility as soon as he met her. Though Stephanie initially only intended to work for DuPont temporarily, she found the work interesting enough to stay and not pursue a medical career. Kwolek moved to Wilmington, Delaware in 1950 to continue to work for DuPont.

In 1959, she won a publication award from the American Chemical Society (ACS). While working for DuPont, Kwolek invented Kevlar which is used in security & defense. In 1964, in anticipation of a gasoline shortage, her group began searching for a lightweight yet strong fiber to be used in tires. The polymers she had been working with at the time, poly-p-Phenylene-terephthalate and polybenzamide, formed liquid crystal while in solution, something unique to those polymers at the time. The solution was "cloudy, opalescent upon being stirred, and of low viscosity" and usually was thrown away. However, Kwolek persuaded technician Charles Smullen, who ran the spinneret, to test her solution. She was amazed to find that the new fiber would not break when nylon typically would. Both her supervisor and the laboratory director understood the significance of her discovery and a new field of polymer chemistry quickly arose.

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