AKA Stephanie Louise Kwolek
Birthplace: New Kensington, PA
Race or Ethnicity: White
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Invented Kevlar
Stephanie Kwolek was one of very few female chemists at DuPont when she was hired in 1946. She worked for several years on potential polymer fibers before being assigned a project other chemists had rejected, searching for a strong, lightweight fiber that could be used to make stronger tires. After countless failed efforts, in 1966 Kwolek produced a novel polymer solution that was fluid and cloudy, when she expected it to be clear. When the solution was spun, it formed tough fibers with startlingly strong properties. Afraid that she had made a mistake, she repeated the test several times before writing her report.
Her discovery, poly-paraphenylene terephtalamide, has been marketed as Kevlar. It is about five times as strong as steel, deriving its strength from its long carbon chains of alternating aromatic rings and amide groups, crosslinked by hydrogen bonding. Lightweight and very strong, Kevlar has been used to manufacture ropes, bridge cables, tapes, and bullet-proof vests, among many other applications. It is also used, as per her assignment from DuPont, to reinforce radial tires.
Father: John Kwolek (foundry worker, d. 1933)
Mother: Nellie Zajdel Kwolek
University: BS Chemistry, Carnegie Mellon University (1946)
DuPont Chemist (1946-86)
American Chemical Society
National Inventors Hall of Fame 1995
National Medal of Technology and Innovation 1996
National Women's Hall of Fame 2003
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