Stephanie L. Kwolek
Discoverer of liquid crystalline solutions of aromatic polyamides and fibers based on them, creating the foundation for the Kevlar product line. The first woman inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame.
During her 40-year career as a research chemist at the DuPont Company, Stephanie Kwolek discovered a new class of polymers that has not only opened major new markets for plastics but has also yielded important benefits for mankind.
Starting in 1964, Kwolek developed the first liquid crystalline solutions of extended chain aromatic polyamides into high-tenacity and -modulus fibers that were the foundation of Kevlar aramid products.
Today, Kevlar is used in more than 200 different applications - ranging from advanced composites to aerospace components - because of its unmatched strength, stiffness, and light weight. In its most well-known use, ballistic clothing, Kevlar is credited with saving the lives of thousands of law enforcement officers.
After graduating from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1946, Kwolek joined the Textile Fibers Department at DuPont and began research on low-temperature processes for condensation polymers such as polyamides, polyurethanes, polyesters, and polysulfonamides. This research opened new capabilities to process unmeltable or thermally unstable polymers, which led to commercial production of Kevlar and Nomex aramid products.
The author or coauthor of 28 publications and recipient of 16 U.S. patents, she has received numerous awards for her contributions to the advancement of polymeer science, including:
- The National Medal of Technology
- Women in Technology International Hall of Fame inductee
- The Fred O. Conley Award in Plastics Engineering and Technology from the Society of Plastics Engineers
- National Inventors Hall of Fame inductee
- The American Innovator Award from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
- DuPont Lavoisier Medal for technical achievement
Since retiring from DuPont in 1986, Kwolek has worked as a consultant for the company, having recently completed a term on the Liquid Crystalline Polymer Committee of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Science.
Throughout her career and in retirement, Kwolek has been a mentor for women scientists and been active in programs designed to interest children in science.