Stephanie Louise Kwolek
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 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.
As she carried out experiments to make stronger and stiffer fibers, she discovered an amazing branch of polymer science liquid crystalline polymers. 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 DuPont's Experimental Station in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1950. She retired in 1986 as a research associate but continued to consult for DuPont and served on the committees of the National Research Council and the National Academy of Sciences.