Kevlar is a very high strength synthetic material that is usually spun into sheets or ropes for many commercial uses. Amazingly, it is 5 times stronger than steel on the basis of equal weight and doesn’t suffer from rusting or corrosion. This means it finds many applications in products that require high strength while remaining lightweight including; body armor (bulletproof vests) and personal protection wear, tires, brakes, sailcloth, high performance shoes, strings (music and sports), drums, ropes and much more. It can also be used in the reinforcement of composite materials, such as carbon fiber. Let’s find out who invented this important material.
Who invented Kevlar?
Kevlar was invented by chemist Stephanie Kwolek in 1964 while working in a group searching for a strong and lightweight fiber for use in vehicle tires at chemical company DuPoint. The solution she created did not look promising and would usually have been thrown out. However, she convinced Charles Smullen, a technician at DuPoint, to test the solution. It was discovered that the fiber did not break like it was expected to and her senior staff realized the importance of her discovery. In 1971 modern Kevlar was introduced commercially and today a number of different grades of the material are available. Interestingly, Kwolek continued to work for DuPoint until her retirement, but she did not work on developing the applications of her invention.
Did you know?
The proper name for Kevlar is poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide.
In 1995 Kwolek was just the 4th woman to be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. A year later she was awarded the National Medal of Technology and in 1997 she was awarded the Perkin Medal from the American Chemical Society. She has served on both the National Research Council and the National Academy of Sciences.