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Leaders in Innovation

2024 NIHF Inductee Alice Stoll: A Leader in Fire Safety

Every year, the National Inventors Hall of Fame® recognizes a new class of inventors who envision and execute groundbreaking innovations. Alice Stoll, who led the development of fire-resistant fabrics in the 1960s, is one of the 15 inspiring creators who compose our 2024 Inductee class.

Keep reading to learn more about Stoll’s story and her impact on our safety.


Exploring Aircraft Safety

Stoll was born on Long Island, New York, in 1917. In 1938, she graduated from Hunter College with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and physics. Following her graduation, she enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War II. She served in the Reserve for over 20 years, all the while working toward a master’s degree in psychology and biophysics at Cornell University Medical College, which she earned in 1948.

Stoll began her career at the Naval Air Development Center in Warminster, Pennsylvania, where she gathered data from previous studies on the effects of centrifugal acceleration on both chimpanzees and humans for research in aviation and space flight. She applied these studies to the development of a Stoll Curve describing centrifugal acceleration tolerance in humans. Stoll’s research helped aircraft designers determine when it was necessary to protect pilots against G-force effects.


Testing Thermal Limits

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Stoll worked alongside chemist Maria Chianta to determine the amount of heat energy required to cause second-degree burns. With these studies, the pair was able to curate another Stoll Curve that recorded the levels and durations of heat exposure required to produce second-degree burns and pain under various conditions. Stoll and Chianta’s research showed that the degree of skin damage did not result from the source of heat, but instead from the increase of skin temperature and the total amount of heat exposure.

Stoll’s studies led to groundbreaking discoveries regarding thermal burns and how to prevent them. Prior to her work, using fire-retardant treatments on fabrics was considered the most effective method of burn prevention, but Stoll’s research showed that it was even more effective to construct entirely new fabrics with fire-resistant fibers.

In the early 1960s, Stoll gathered enough knowledge to invent and patent a device that tested fabrics as well as measured their properties. These properties included thermal diffusivity, conductivity and flame destruction. More crucially, the device was able to measure the fabric’s capability to protect skin against heat, helping to further understand the physical effects on skin beneath one or more layers of the fabric in severe thermal conditions.

With this device, Stoll was able to test over 200 materials before identifying a synthetic polymer called H-1, later marketed as Nomex® by DuPont.

This polymer was established as the best fiber for fire-resistant clothing, noting the ways in which it reacts to extreme heat conditions. When this fiber is exposed to heat, it thickens and carbonizes, absorbing the heat rather than transmitting it to the wearer through the fabric. It does not melt or catch fire unlike nylon or other synthetic fibers, both of which can lead to thermal injuries.


Advancing Heat Protection in Clothing

Nomex proved to be so effective, it was used to create the first inherently fire-resistant protective clothing, primarily adopted by U.S. Navy personnel. This fiber soon was found in clothing issued by other U.S. military branches and fire departments, as well as in a wide variety of civilian applications.

Today, Nomex is one of the most common fibers for making fire-protective clothing as it meets the standards established by industry associations and governments for workplace safety. In addition to protecting military pilots and firefighters, Nomex also is used in protective apparel for racecar drivers and industrial workers who are exposed to hazards from flash fires and electrical arcs.

Stoll retired from the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1966 with the rank of commander in the Medical Service Corps. Until 1980, she served as the head of the biophysics and bioastronautics division at the Naval Air Development Center’s Aerospace Medical Research Department. She held two U.S. patents and numerous recognitions including the Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award in 1969 and the Presidential Award Citation for Innovation in 1972.


Meet More of Our Revolutionary 2024 Inductees

To learn more about the new National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductees whose stories will inspire generations through our events, museum exhibits and invention education programs, visit our website.

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