POWERING CHANGE: WOMEN IN INNOVATION & CREATIVITY
Born in Pennsylvania in 1923, Stephanie Kwolek’s early years were spent exploring woods with her father or sewing with her mother.
Her initial ambitions to become a fashion designer were quashed by her mother who warned she would probably starve because she was such a perfectionist. Choosing to study medicine instead, she worked towards a BA in Chemistry.
Once Stephanie graduated, she successfully applied for a position as a chemist with the DuPont Company. She was engaged in many projects, including being asked to scout for the next generation of fibres capable of extreme performance. This led to the discovery of Kevlar, spun from liquid crystalline solutions including the yellow Kevlar fibre. In 1995 she was awarded the DuPont Lavoisier Medal for outstanding technical achievement and, as of 2015, was the only female employee to have received that honour.
Kevlar is resistant to corrosion and flames and is the main element in bulletproof vests – invaluable to the military and police – as well as a broad range of more than 200 applications including tennis rackets, skis, and suspension bridge cables.
Stephanie is the recipient of 17 US patents and has received many awards for her inventions, including induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1995 – only the fourth woman member of 113 at the time.
"I hope I'm saving lives. There are very few people in their careers that have the opportunity to do something to benefit mankind."
— Stephanie Kwolek