Kevlar, the wonder polymer used in bullet-proof vests, was developed by the chemist, Stephanie Kwolek, some 50 years ago. She described her invention as "A case of serendipity".
Tasked with trying to find a lighter, synthetic replacement for reinforcing car tyres she stumbled upon a liquid crystalline solution that could be processed - through the pores of a machine called a spinneret - into fibres. "The stiffness was absolutely spectacular. That's when I said 'Aha.' I knew then and there it was an important discovery" Kwolek recalled. "Not in a thousand years did I think the discovery of this liquid solution would save thousands of lives" she said regarding recent conflicts. "When I watch the war on TV, I take great pride in saying 'We at Dupont invented that'"
Born in 1923, in Pennsylvania, Kwolek's professional career was challenging. In 1999 she said "Those were not enlightened times for the recognition and advancement of women in scientific research" adding "While I was doing work that was acknowledged to be on an equal level to men, it took 15 years for me to get my first promotion, and that was far too long to wait".
The Kevlar Survivors' Club, a joint initiative of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and Du Pont, record over 31,000 US police officers having been protected from death or serious injury by Kevlar. Kwolek sometimes had contact with some of the people her invention had protected. "I got to meet some of the troopers whose lives had been saved. They came with their wives, their children, their parents. It was a very moving occasion". Not a bad legacy!
Born 31st July 1923
Died 18th June 2014