Born: 31 July 1923
Died: 18 June 2014
Stephanie Louise Kwolek was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. She was an organic chemist, best known for inventing Kevlar in 1965. Kevlar is an immensely strong plastic, which was first used as a replacement for steel reinforcing strips in racing car tires and has gone on to be used in a large number of applications where high strength is required without high weight, including armor, gloves, tires, yacht sails, shoes, ropes and tennis racket strings.
Aged 23, Kwolek graduated with a degree in chemistry from Margaret Morrison Carnegie College of Carnegie Mellon University. She was quickly recruited to work as a chemist at Dupont Chemicals in Buffalo, NY. After nine years of research work, Kwolek made her major breakthrough, discovering Kevlar. Her pathway to discovery began a year earlier, when she began looking for a new, lightweight plastic to be used in car tires. The idea was that lighter tires would allow vehicles to enjoy better fuel economy.
Not only did Kevlar find use in tires, its combination of lightness and strength has seen it used in a large variety of protective clothing applications, such as bulletproof vests, which have saved the lives of countless police officers and other people.
Stephanie Kwolek died on June 18, 2014. She was awarded the National Medal of Technology; the Perkin Medal, which is seen as the highest award in American industrial chemistry; the Chemical Pioneer Award of the American Institute of Chemists; and the Howard N. Potts Medal for Engineering. In 1994, she was admitted to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.