As I said in the introduction to my article about the Slinky, I recently rewatched Obit. (2016) a quite interesting documentary about the New York Times journalists who are charged with writing the obituaries. During my watch, I noticed multiple references to articles that might be interesting to read, one was about the inventor of Kevlar.
After a few weeks, I found my notes about that and finally took a look at that story. It’s not a long one, but let me share with you what it is about!
What is Kevlar?
First, if you’re not familiar with Kevlar, this is a synthetic fiber–Poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide (K29)–that is well-known for its extraordinary strength, rigidity, and heat resistance. It is lighter than fiberglass and five times stronger than steel, making it a highly useful and adaptable material for many uses.
Today, it is widely used in body armor, bulletproof vests, and other protective gear.
So, Who Invented Kevlar?
At the DuPont Textile Lab in the 1960s, Stephanie Kwolek (1923-2014) worked with polymers and made the discovery of Kevlar. Kwolek’s study includes working with polymers, which are long chains of chemicals, to create light and heat-resistant fibers.
During her research, in 1965, she came upon a polyamide liquid crystal solution that displayed peculiar properties. This polymer solution was fluid and hazy, as opposed to the usual viscous and transparent polymer solutions.
Kwolek was intrigued by this strange activity and saw its potential, thinking that the solution could be spun into strong fibers. She persuaded her coworkers to spin the solution and examine its structural elements. They found that the fibers were very stiff, robust, and light.
Despite early skepticism, Kwolek’s continued work resulted in the ground-breaking discovery that completely changed the field of materials science. It took six years of diligent teamwork to go from the solution in a test tube to developing Kevlar into a widely marketable commodity.
This invention Kevlar had a profound impact on various industries. Beyond its use in bullet-resistant vests and body armor, it is employed in spacecraft components, tires, helmets, kayaks, extreme sports equipment, and many other applications where strength and durability are essential.