Stephanie Kwolek (1923-)

Stephanie Kwolek is a research chemist best known for her pioneering work on polymers. She was born in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. Having graduated from the women’s college of Carnegie-Mellon University, Kwolek accepted a job as a chemist at the chemical company DuPont. She joined the company only eight years after the first synthetic fibre, nylon, had been created. With a team of chemists known as the Pioneering Research Laboratory, she became involved in extensive research into polymers (large molecules composed of repeating structural units).

In 1964, Kwolek’s group decided to search for a new high-performance fibre. Amidst predictions of a fuel shortage, they thought that a strong, lightweight fibre could be used to reinforce car tyres. Out of this research came the discovery of the yellow Kevlar fibre. Kevlar is five times stronger than the same weight of steel, is extremely light and does not rust or corrode. Kevlar has over 200 applications, including in bulletproof vests, boats, aeroplanes, ropes, cables and skis.

During her 40 years as a research scientist, Kwolek obtained 28 patents. In 1994 she became only the fourth woman member of the US National Inventors Hall of Fame.