black and white photo of Stephanie Kwolek

Stephanie Kwolek  1923 —

Stephanie Kwolek was born in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, to Polish immigrant parents who instilled in her a love of science and a passion for persistence. Stephanie graduated from Margaret Morrison Carnegie College and was intending to go to medical school when she took a temporary research job with the DuPont company in Wilmington, Delaware.

Stephanie never went to medical school. Instead, her fascination with the intricacies of the growing field of organic chemistry led her to develop one of the most useful products of the modern age: Kevlar. Her laboratory was involved in research on fibers for long-wearing tires, and in the process, Stephanie discovered a polymer that is ounce-for-ounce, five times stronger than steel. Kevlar was introduced in 1971.

Kevlar is best known for its ability to stop a bullet or other projectile and used extensively in bullet-proof vests, helmets, and body armor. However, the Kevlar fiber is also used in boats, sails, sports equipment and even suspension bridge cables. Kevlar is both strong and light and resists heat.

Stephanie Kwolek retired from her lab in 1986. In her 40 years as a research scientist, she is named on 17 U.S. patents.. She has received several prestigious scientific awards including the Kilby Award, the National Medal of Technology, and the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award. She is an inspiration to women everywhere who wish to pursue a career in laboratory research.

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