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Stephanie Louise Kwolek

Stephanie Louise Kwolek
Ink and watercolor on 9″ x 12″ watercolor paper
The latest addition to the ‘She Changed the World’ collection!

Stephanie Louise Kwolek (1923-2014) invented the life-saving synthetic fibers now known as Kevlar. Born to Polish immigrants in a Pittsburgh suburb, she grew up with a naturalist father who fostered a fascination with science and the natural world in her from a young age. After earning her Bachelor of Science in 1946, Kwolek had intended to earn her doctorate but found work with DuPont due to the shortage of men because of World War II.

While this was originally intended to be a temporary employment to pay for her further education, Stephanie found the work to be fascinating. In 1959 she won a publication award from the American Chemical Society, her first of many awards, for a paper called ‘The Nylon Rope Trick’. The paper demonstrated how to create nylon at room temperature, and is still demonstrated regularly in science classrooms everywhere.

In 1964 Kwolek and her team were assigned with developing new fibers to be used in tires due to the gasoline shortage. During her experiments, she developed a fiber that would not break when nylon typically did. Not only was the fiber stronger than nylon, but five times stronger than steel by weight. The team quickly realized the potential applications for the new fiber, soon named Kevlar.

Over one million protective bullet-proof Kevlar vests have been manufactured saving countless lives. It’s also used in products such as tennis rackets, boats, bridges, cables, tires, and hurricane safe rooms. You use Kevlar pretty much every day of your life whether you know it or not and it’s made your life and the lives of everyone you know safer.