“I knew that I had made a discovery,” Kwolek said in an interview several years ago. “I didn’t shout ‘Eureka,’ but I was very excited, as was the whole laboratory excited, and management was excited because we were looking for something new, something different, and this was it.”
The synthetic fiber is widely used in everything from tires to airplanes to bulletproof vests to mobile phones, but in truth Stephanie L. Kwolek’s incredible innovation was always most apparent to me because the stuff makes awesome sails.
The Chemical Heritage Foundation—yes, there is such a thing—notes:
Kwolek has received many awards for her invention of the technology behind Kevlar fiber, including induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1994 as only the fourth woman member of 113. In 1996 she received the National Medal of Technology, and in 1997 the Perkin Medal, presented by the American Section of the Society of Chemical Industry—both honors rarely awarded to women. She has served as a mentor for other women scientists and participated in programs that introduce young children to science. One of Kwolek’s most cited papers, written with Paul W. Morgan, is “The Nylon Rope Trick” (Journal of Chemical Education, April 1959, 36:182–184). It describes how to demonstrate condensation polymerization in a beaker at atmospheric pressure and room temperature—a demonstration now common in classrooms across the nation.
Stephanie Kwolek was 90 when she passed away in June.
British Broadcasting Corporation. “Kevlar inventor Stephanie Kwolek dies”. 21 June 2014.
Roberts, Rich. “Sailcloth of the Future”. Sailing World. May, 2000.
Chemical Heritage Foundation. “Stephanie L. Kwolek”. 2014.