Stephanie L. Kwolek

 

Stephanie Louise Kwolek is one of the most respected chemists of high performance textiles. She is a female chemist who discovered Kevlon. Stepanie Kwolek was born July 31, 1923 in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. As a child. her father encouraged her to learn about nature by first hand experience. She liked to explore the woods and creeks around her home with her brothers. In school, Stephanie enjoyed science and math classes. Her teachers encouraged and talked to her about careers in science and chemistry. She had never heard of professional chemists and scientists as a child, so it was all new to her.

As Stephanie got older, in high school and college, she wanted to have a career in the medical field. Financially, he could not afford it at the time, so she interviewed for research jobs to make the money to go to medical school. Stephanie graduated from Carnegie Institution of Technology with a chemist degree and was hired with the Dupont Company in 1946. This was only a temporary job for Stephanie until she made enough money to get through medical school. She soon got promoted within the Dupont Company, which became her lifetime career. "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".

Stephanie Kwolek's job at Dupont was working in the lab making long molecules called polymers that can be made into fabric or plastics. Stephanie was always ready for a new challenge.

In 1964, her supervisor had asked her and her coworkers to search for new high performance fibers. During one of her experiments to find a new synthetic fiber, Stephanie was experimenting with two polymers that just would not melt. The mixture of the solvent and polymers was cloudy instead of clear. She had these new polymers tested and to her amazement she had just invented a new polymer. She had discovered a new fiber, called an aramid fiber, and a new type of substance, called liquid crystalline solution Stephanie Kwolek had discovered Kevlar.

Kevlar is a polymer containing aromatic and amide molecular groups. It weighs very little but is strong and stiff and is five times stronger than steel. It is resistant to wear, corrosion, fatigue and flame and is nonconductive. Under water, Kevlar is 20 times stronger than steel. It took ten years between the time Stepanie first stirred the test tube that made this new polymer to the time bullet proof vests were made with Kevlar.

There are a number of things that are made and used with aramid fibers: boat hulls, bullet proof vests, coats, dress shirts, fiber optic cables, firefighter suits, fuel hoses, helmets, parts of airplanes, radial tires, pieces of spacecraft, canoes, and skis. "A vest made out of seven layers of. aramid fibers weighs 2.5 pounds but it can deflect a knife blade and stop a .38-caliber bullet shot form 10 feet away."

On July 22, 1995 Kwolek was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio, alongside other great inventors such as Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers, Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell,, and Lewis Pastuer. Kwolek has obtained twenty-eight patents in her forty-year career. She retired from the DuPont corporation in 1986, and now works as a consultant in the field of high performance chemical compounds and serves on the committees of the National Research Council and the National Academy of Sciences. Stephanie Kwolek, a dedicated and credited inventor, is definitely an inspiration to the future scientists of the world.

 

Bibliography

 

Shaw, D. (1997, February). Inventor of Bullet-Resistant Kevlar to receive Medal. Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, B1060, 211.

Stephen, S. (1997, March). Stephanie Kwolek wins 1997 Perkin Metal.

Chemistry and English News, v75, n9

 

Vare, E. and Ptacek, G. (©1988) Mothers of Invention; From the Bra to the Bomb: Forgotten Women and Their Unforgettable Ideas. Morrow

American Men and Women Science, Who's Who In Technology, Seventh Edition

www.dupont.com/corp/r-and-d/lavoisier/kwolek.html

www.pacsci.org/public/education/champions/polymers/polymers.html

www.si.edu/organiza/museums/nmah/lemel/Lecture5.html

 

Honors and Awards

 

*American Chemical Society, Delaware Section Publication Award (with a coworker), 1959

*Howard N. Potts medal, Franklin Institute of Philadelphia for the discovery of liquid crystalline solution of synthetic polyamides and resulting fibers, 1969

*Materials Achievement Citation, American Society of metals, for contributions to Kevlar Aramid, 1978

*Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists, 1980

*Creative Invention Award, American Chemical Society, 1980

*Honorary Doctor of Science Degree, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, 1981

*Carnegie-Mellon University Alumni Association Merit Award, 1983

*Engineering/Technology Award, Society of Plastics Engineers, 198 5

*University of Akron, Polymer Processing Hall of Fame induction, 1985

*Harold De Witt Smith Memorial Award, American Society of Testing and Materials, 1988

*DuPont Honoree at the Bicentennial Celebration of the United States patent and Copyright Laws, 1990

*SAMPE George Lubin Memorial Award for meritorious achievement in the advancement of materials for contributions to the development of Kevlar (cowinner), 1992

*Engineering and Science Hall of Fame, Dayton, Ohio induction, 1992

*National Salute to Corporate Inventors by national Inventors hall of Fame, 1993

*The Kilby Awards Foundations Jack Kilby Award for contributions to science and technology and development of Kevlar, 1994

*The American Innovator Award, Patent & Trademark Office, 1995

Nancy Venti

Kellee Horne[

To SCIENTISTS DATA BANK

Back to HOME