Stephanie Kwolek

Ever wondered who invented Kevlar? It’s a pretty niche thing to ponder on at any given time but luckily I have the answer for you!

Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar.

  • Stephanie was born in 1924.
  • She was a Chemist.
  • She discovered the correct fibers that led to the creation of Kevlar when she was in her 40’s.
  • She was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1994.
  • She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2003.
  • Stephanie passed away in 2014, at the age of 90.

I’m not going to go in depth into the science but here is an easy to digest summary:

“Unexpectedly, she discovered that under certain conditions, large numbers of polyamide molecules line up in parallel to form cloudy liquid crystalline solutions. Most researchers would have rejected the solution because it was fluid and cloudy rather than viscous and clear. But Kwolek took a chance and spun the solution into fibers more strong and stiff than had ever been created. This breakthrough opened up the possibilities for a host of new products resistant to tears, bullets, extreme temperatures, and other conditions.” (source)

In one of her interviews straight out of College Stephanie was tenacious enough to ask for the outcome of her interview on the spot. She attributes this boldness to the boss of the company bringing his secretary in and dictating a letter of offer on the spot to her (source). You don’t get if you don’t ask!!

The thing I love the most about this story is that Stephanie tested a product that most other scientists would have discarded because of the texture and style of it. Today the world of the academic and researcher (including scientists) is fraught with risk. You can’t take yourself too far outside of the norm because then you will be contradicting or challenging those who are responsible for your funding, or your position at a university.

Unfortunately this leads to our research walking around in circles at times, and an inability for the great “leaps” in progress that science, philosophy and intellectual thought was once famous for.

So this idea of just “giving something a go” to test how it would react, and the subsequent incredible outcome makes me so happy!

I am sure you have heard of Kevlar. But just in case you weren’t aware of some of these uses here is a quick list:

  • Body armour
  • Coating on optical-fiber cables that run between countries under the sea
  • Ropes (the strength of the fiber can hold a bridge)
  • Clothing for athletes
  • Kitchenware (fry pans etc)
  • And on and on (source).

The hard work Stephanie dedicated her life to has improved our lives in ways we now take for granted.

But Kevlar of course has also led to the protection of our service men and women in both military and police roles. I am sure many pacifist arguments would be against this and would not consider it a step forward. I get that, and whilst it is a complicated story bigger than this blog can afford, I for one have quite a positive view of police in my country (being very lucky to have had nothing but positive experiences with them as afforded by my race, social status and circumstance) and am grateful that they are given more protection so they can continue to keep me safe.

Thank you to the following sites:

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s