Kevlar inventor Stephanie Kwolek dies aged 90

Her invention for tyres went on to be used for body armour around the world

The woman who invented Kevlar – a super-strong fibre that revolutionised body armour - has died at the age of 90.

Stephanie Kwolek, an American chemist, was working for the DuPont chemical company in 1965 when she created it as a new material for tyres amid fears of a petrol shortage.

It went on to be used in armour for police and armed forces around the world, sports equipment, shoes and even in frying pans and musical instruments.

Kwolek, who worked for DuPont for four decades from 1946, died in Delaware on Wednesday after a short illness.

The company’s chief executive, Ellen Kullman, called her “a creative and determined chemist and a true pioneer for women in science".

She added: "Her synthesis of the first liquid crystal polymer and the invention of DuPont Kevlar highlighted a distinguished career."

Kwolek told the News Journal newspaper in Wilmington, Delaware, in 2007 that the mix of polymers she created was not exactly a ”eureka moment” but she was proud of its future use.

British troops wearing body armour in Afghanistan British troops wearing body armour in Afghanistan She said she was afraid to tell her managers about its properties and conducted repeated tests.

“I didn't want to be embarrassed," she added. "When I did tell management, they didn't fool around. They immediately assigned a whole group to work on different aspects.”

Kevlar is lightweight but extremely strong - five times tougher than steel.

“At least, I'm hoping I'm saving lives,” Kwolek said. “There are very few people in their careers that have the opportunity to do something to benefit mankind.”

She was careful to take credit for only the initial discovery of the technology and credited the work of others involved in its development.

Kwolek was born on 31 July 1923, in New Kensington, Pennsylvania.

She graduated from the Carnegie Institution of Technology with a chemistry degree and was hired by DuPont a year after the end of the Second World War.

Additional reporting by Reuters

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there