Photo of Stephanie Kwolek

Stephanie Kwolek

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Chemistry

For her contributions to the discovery, development, and liquid crystal processing of aramid fibers, which allowed for the development of life-saving products used around the world.

As a child, Stephanie Kwolek’s wanted to become a doctor. Thousands of people can be thankful that never happened.

Kwolek received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., in 1946 and thought about medical school. But the cost was a problem, so instead she took a job at DuPont, where she became one of the first female research chemists.

In the early 1960s, Kwolek was part of a DuPont team that was attempting to develop a fiber that could replace the steel in radial tires. Working with strings of carbon-based molecules, she synthesized a polymer that produced a lightweight but incredibly strong fiber. That fiber would become Kevlar, one of DuPont’s most famous and profitable brands. Not only did it find use in tires, but Kevlar’s superior strength – it’s five times stronger than steel, DuPont says — made it the perfect component in the bullet-proof clothing that protects military personnel and peace officers around the world.

On the day Kwolek died in 2014, The New York Times reported, DuPont announced that the “one-millionth vest made with Kevlar technology had been sold.’’

By Robert Warren