|Stephanie Kwolek (1923-2014)|
Stephanie Kwolek wanted to be a medical doctor someday. After attending college and becoming a chemist, she accepted a temporary position at DuPont as a research scientist, hoping to save enough for medical school. Instead, DuPont offered her a permanent position and a promotion she couldn't turn down, changing the course of her life.
Stephanie later said, "I think one of the reasons I've stayed so long is that back in 1946, women were only able to work in the laboratories for a few years, then they'd get pushed into so called women's jobs. I had something to prove and also the work was very interesting."
We can be thankful Stephanie made a career at DuPont and had something to prove. In 1965, while studying long molecules at low temperature, in her search for a lightweight plastic that could be used in car tires (to possibly reduce gas mileage), she discovered a substance that was lightweight and incredibly strong. The discovery led to the invention of a synthetic material called Kevlar, which when tested, was 5 times stronger than steel out of water and 20 times stronger under water. It was also heat and corrosion resistant.
Kevlar® is a liquid, which is then
converted into fiber that can be
woven into a textile material.
Since 1965, Kevlar has been used to strengthen and improve close to 200 products. Here are some examples:
- safety helmets
- hiking and camping gear
- suspension bridge cables
- bulletproof vests (invaluable to law enforcement officers, police dogs, and soldiers in the field)
- clothing (Kevlar is resistant to wear and corrosion)
- fiber optic cables
- firefighter suits (Kevlar is flame resistant)
- fuel hoses
- airplane parts
- tires (radial; and racing car tires)
- spacecraft parts
- tennis racquets
Kevlar has made the world a whole lot safer by adding incredible strength (without added weight) to many, many products. Countless lives have been saved as a result of this invention.
Commenting on her discovery, Stephanie Kwolek said, “I don’t think there’s anything like saving someone’s life to bring you satisfaction and happiness.” She has received numerous awards for her research, including induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, an honor shared with other great inventors, among them, Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers, Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, and Lewis Pasteur.
Copyright 2015 © Sharon Marie Himsl