Stephanie Kwolek was born in 1923 in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. She graduated from Margaret Morrison Carnegie College in 1946 where she received her B.S. in General Science. She had dreamed of going to medical school but because of the money that it took to go to medical school, she chose instead to go to work at DuPont.
When Stephanie Kwolek began her employment with DuPont as a research chemist in 1946, her work was confined to discovering processes for condensation polymers preparation. DuPont was the leader in the industry because of its discoveries with nylon, Dacron polyester, Normex arid, and Lycra spandex. Her purpose at DuPont would later be one where she was supposed to find a synthetic to use with tire manufacturing.
Stephanie Kwolek was responsible for discovering Kevlar. It is used today in bicycle tires, racing sails, and body armor. When Stephanie first discovered it, she had to encourage testing because the chemist, who was ultimately in charge of running the spinning machine, wasn’t at all interested in Stephanie’s theories.
Once Kwolek was able to convince the chemist to give her solution a spin, they were amazed at what they discovered. Not only had Stephanie Kwolek discovered threads that were durable but the threads were indeed very strong.
Just the simple discovery that Stephanie Kwolek made has inspired further studies including a new area of study called polymer chemistry. Kwolek’s discovery of Kevlar proved to provide a fiber that was strong enough to resist most initiated breaks by hand.
Stephanie Kwolek is in the National Inventors Hall of Fame. She holds twenty-eight patents to date and in 1996, she received the National Medal of Technology.