Stephanie Kwolek

“I don’t think there’s anything like saving someone’s life to bring you satisfaction and happiness.”

In 1965 the chemical company DuPont was looking for its next big innovations, the kind of products that would change people’s lives. It assigned a research chemist named Stephanie Kwolek to go find one.

Kwolek focused on fibers, searching for a synthetic material that could withstand extreme conditions. She unexpectedly discovered that after being dissolved in a solvent the aramid polyamides she was studying could be spun into fibers of extraordinary strength and stiffness. The material was five times stronger than steel, was extremely lightweight, and did not rust or corrode. After she patented the material in 1966, DuPont named it Kevlar.

Kwolek’s discovery has gone on to save lives as a lightweight body armor for police and the military; to convey messages across the ocean as a protector of undersea optical-fiber cable; to suspend bridges with super-strong ropes; and to be used in countless more applications from protective clothing for athletes and scientists to canoes, drumheads, and frying pans. In 1994 she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, only the fourth woman among 113 members.

Learn more

  • Read more about Stephanie Kwolek’s early life and later studies.
  • Explore Kwolek’s oral history.
  • Listen to an episode of CHF's podcast Distillations exploring new innovations in synthetic fibers and fabrics.
  • Read the film transcript.

 

Catalyst Series: Women in Chemistry

Women in Chemistry

Follow the adventures of eight leading women in chemistry and celebrate their life-changing, chance-taking, thrill-seeking love of science. 

Reflections on Careers

Learn more about women's contributions to science through CHF's Women in Chemistry oral histories.

Stories from the Field

Listen to career insights and stories of scientific adventures from women in chemistry.