This Groundbreaking Scientist Made the Stuff that Saves Lives Every Day
Editor's Note: This Women’s History Month, Bumble is celebrating women from all walks of life, across centuries and generations, who didn’t believe in sticking to the rules. These founding members of our First Movers Club didn’t let gender norms — or anything else! — hold them back. They left their mark by making the first move, and the world is a better place thanks to their bravery and boldness.
Kevlar is a synthetic fiber. That doesn't sound very exciting, does it? How about when we reframe it to say that it's the stuff that protects soldiers from enemies? But bulletproof vests and combat helmets are only two of the uses to come out of this fiber — just ask the brilliant woman who created it.
Born in 1946, groundbreaking scientist Stephanie Kwolek battled institutional barriers in the chemistry field and created Kevlar, the super fiber that's so strong it’s regularly used to reinforce boat hulls, strengthen airplanes, and ensure drumheads withstand impact — not to mention its 198 other uses. A clearcut leader in her field, Kwolek was appointed the head of polymer research at DuPont’s Pioneering Lab, a role she held until her retirement in 1986.
As tough as the Kevlar she created, Kwolek stood her ground against opposition to pursue her dreams, and continues to inspire women scientists everywhere to do the same. Read more of this pioneer’s exceptional life story below!
- Inspired by her mother’s love of fabrics, Kwolek originally planned to be fashion designer. As she grew older, however, she decided to follow in her late father’s footsteps and pursue natural science.
- Practically unheard of in the 1960s, Kwolek abandoned her plans to attend medical school to be a full time chemist after her work with polymer research ignited her passion for polymer chemistry.
- Kwolek’s discovery of exceptionally strong and stiff polyamide molecules led to the creation of synthetic fibers that help save thousands of lives everyday in the form of bulletproof vests, spacecrafts, helmets, tires and other objects.
- Throughout her life, Kwolek received numerous honors in her field including induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (1994), the National Medal of Technology (1999), and the Perkin Medal, all of which were rarely given to women at the time.