Happy Birthday, Stephanie Kwolek
Born on this day in 1923 in Pennsylvania, Kwolek became a chemist and invented poly-paraphenylene terephtalamide. You know—Kevlar!
Kwolek was working for DuPont when she invented Kevlar, which is used for bicycle tires, racing sails, mooring lines, and (famously) body armor. It is a high-strength material, especially considering its weight: Kevlar is FIVE TIMES stronger than steel, weight-for-weight.
Kwolek received a patent in 1971 for Kevlar, and she has received at least 27 other patents and numerous awards for her work in polymer chemistry. A polymer is a natural or synthetic material made up of many (sometimes millions) of repeated units. Two examples of natural polymers are tortoise shell and amber. Plastics are polymers that humans artificially make.
- Here is a polymer experiment using PVA glue and borax.
- This experiment is a bit easier, because it combines white glue with borax.
- Kwolek is quoted in this family guide to invention, put out by the Smithsonian Institution:
- "All sorts of things can happen when you're open to new ideas and playing around with things.”