Stephanie Kwolek was a Polish-American woman, born in New Kensington, Philadelphia, on July 31, 1923. From the age of 10, Kwolek was raised by her mother, a talented seamstress, after her father died. Kwolek initially wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps, and had a keen interest in fashion design. However, she changed career paths when she was told that she “was too much of a perfectionist” to work in the industry.
Kwolek inherited a love of science from her father and ultimately decided to become a doctor. Attending Margaret Morrison Carnegie College of Carnegie Mellon University, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree and hoped to attend medical school after graduating. However, Kwolek was hired to work as a chemist at Dupont Chemicals in Buffalo and later relocated to Wilmington. There, she developed a great passion for her work researching polymers and spent the remainder of her career.
Kwolek engaged in many projects at Dupont, but her great breakthrough came in 1965 when she discovered a family of low-density synthetic fibers that, simply put, are very strong—the most notable being Kevlar (which is in fact bulletproof). Since Kwolek’s discovery, Kevlar has been used for myriad products, from gloves to bulletproof vests. Throughout the remainder of her career, Kwolek received a number of awards and devoted much of her time to mentoring women scientists.