Stephanie Kwolek “accidentally” saved thousands of lives. While working in the Dupont lab trying to manufacture a synthetic fiber to replace steel in tires she noticed that one of the batches she’d been working on had turned milky. While this would normally mean that the batches would be thrown out and declared a failure, Stephanie’s curiosity got the best of her and, in studying the matter further, she realized that she had discovered poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide which Dupont would name “Kevlar”. Kevlar, the main component in bullet proof vests is much stronger than and much lighter than steel.
It is estimated that more than 3,000 police officers lives have been saved since the invention of Kevlar.
Stephanie Kwolek had worked for 15 years at Dupont without a promotion before her discovery. She was also one of a very few women scientists when she started working for Dupont in the 60s.
Besides bullet-proof vests, Kevlar is used in bridges, gloves, skis, tires, planes and thousands of other items.
Stephanie Kwolek was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 1996. She died yesterday at the age of 90.