In the mid-1960s, Kwolek was a researcher at the DuPont Co. in Wilmington when she stumbled on the discovery that became the chemistry that led to the strong, lightweight fiber known as Kevlar. Pound for pound, Kevlar fiber is five times stronger than steel.Police officers and military are only a few occupations that use the product.
More than 3,000 law enforcement officers have survived potentially fatal or disabling injuries because of the golden-colored fiber that is spun into the sheets used in vests, helmets and shields, according to DuPont research. Since the first Gulf War in 1991, nearly every U.S. combat soldier has worn a helmet of Kevlar, according to DuPont data.
Besides body armor, the fiber is used in products ranging from oven mitts to tires, from airplane parts to mattresses.The 4'11" scientist
Kwolek is scrupulous about taking credit only for the initial discovery of a technology that was used in the development of Kevlar. She credits the team of scientists who worked on the development, particularly DuPont scientist Herbert Blades. She has received numerous honors, including being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio. The hall of fame includes such names in American scientific history as Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers.
recalled how excited she was when former DuPont scientist Paul J. Flory visited the Experimental Station. Flory won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1974.
"He came and talked to me, and he told me that I had proven his theoretical conditions for the formation of polymer liquid crystals," Kwolek said.
In technical terms, Kwolek invented a liquid crystalline solution of synthetic aromatic polyamides, from which she spun a very strong and stiff fiber.