Stephanie Louise Kwolek
Born Jul 31 1923
Optically Anisotropic Aromatic Polyamide Dopes and Oriented Fibers Therefrom
Patent Number(s) 3,819,587; re. 30,352
Kwolek's earliest work pioneered low-temperature processes for the preparation of condensation polymers and resulted in hundreds of new polymers, including Kapton polyimide film, and Nomex aramid polymer and fiber.
As she carried out experiments to make stronger and stiffer fibers, she discovered an amazing branch of polymer science-liquid crystalline polymers.
Thousands of police can attest to the value of Stephanie Kwolek's breakthrough research in para-aramid fibers. The fruits of her inventiveness can be found in mooring ropes, fiber-optic cables, aircraft parts, canoes, and-most important to police-in lightweight bullet-resistant vests.
Born in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, Kwolek received her B.S. in chemistry from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1946. That same year she went to work as a chemist at the Buffalo, New York, site of E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company.
'I really wanted to study medicine,' Kwolek recalled, 'but I didn't have enough money to enter medical school. I joined Du Pont as a temporary measure, but the work turned out to be so interesting that I stayed on.' The most famous product of her discovery was Kevlar, a polymer fiber five times stronger than the same weight of steel. The material of choice for bullet-resistant vests and many other applications generates hundreds of millions of dollars in sales worldwide each year.
Kwolek moved to the Pioneering Research Laboratory at Du Pont's Experimental Station in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1950. She retired in 1986 as a research associate but continues to consult for Du Pont and serves on the committees of the National Research Council and the National Academy of Sciences.
Her name appears on 17 patents issued between 1961 and 1986.