The science community is mourning the loss of Stephanie Kwolek, a DuPont chemist who invented the synthetic fibers used in Kevlar body armor, who died this week at the age of 90.
Like many scientific breakthroughs, the invention of Kevlar at first seemed like a dud. As part of a DuPont team working to create a stronger synthetic fiber in 1965, Kwolek came up with a liquid crystal solution that could be cold-spun.
According to the American Chemical Society: “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.” By weight, Kevlar is 5 times stronger than steel.
Kwolek herself said “I never in a thousand years expected that little liquid crystal to develop into what it did.”
What it developed into, of course, was Kevlar, a material that when made into light, strong body armor, has saved thousands of lives and has since been used in hundreds of different products.
So thank you, Stephanie Kwolek.
Please note that the cat in the photo above is not wearing a kevlar vest (looks like a knee pad), but many armed forces and law enforcement dogs do, and some of them undoubtedly also owe their lives to Stephanie Kwolek’s invention.