Stephanie Kwolek, the daughter of two Polish immi-grants, was a chemist working for the DuPont corpo-ration in 1965 when she discovered a stronger-than-steel compound that would prove to be the strongest, stiffest fiber known.
That fiber, five times stronger than an equal weight of steel and lighter than fiberglass, came to be known as Kevlar – likely an invented word with no etymology (The company just made it up.)
DuPont had been searching for a fiber that was rigid, light, and strong to replace the steel wires used at that time in cars. The company could see the gasoline shortage looming in the near future and wanted to provide a stronger, lighter material for tires to help improve gas mileage.
As it turned out, Kwolek had discovered that, and much, much more. Kevlar bul-letproof vests and body armor have saved the lives of thousands of service members and law enforcement officers over the last many decades. Her discov-
ery is also used in boots to protect the feet of firefighters and in gloves to protect fingers of cooks and chefs from accidental cuts from cooking knives. The materi-al is also used in ropes, bicycle tires, racing sales, and spacecraft components.
For twenty years following her discovery, Stephanie Kwolek continued to work at DuPont as the head of polymer research at its pioneering lab.
During her 40 years as a research scientist, Kwolek would earn 28 patents (in-cluding the one for Kevlar) and in 1995, Stephanie Kwolek was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.