If you’ve ever worn a helmet, skied, or driven on a suspension bridge, then you’ve experienced the work of Stephanie Kwolek, who invented Kevlar. Kwolek was always interested in fibers from a young age. She loved fashion and even created clothes for her dolls. Kwolek got a job at the chemical company DuPont to save money for medical school. However, she instead stayed with the company to research how to turn polymers into synthetic fibers. Instead of polymers with molecules that were random, Kwolek worked with ones that formed rows. She ran the polymers (after some resistance from a factory) through a spinneret, which created a fiber that was as strong as steel.
That fiber was the first piece of kevlar. It went on to create countless things, but most famously the bulletproof vest. Although she went on to file 17 patents, kevlar ended up being her lasting legacy, which we should be thankful for today.
Happy Women’s History Month! ~ Regina