The invention of Kevlar is another one of the classic stories of finding something great while searching for something else. While working for DuPoint, Stephanie Kwolek invented polyparaphenylene terephthalamide in 1965, which is what Kevlar happens to be. These soft vests are made up of many fibers, are relatively soft, and have been used in helmets, vests, and other clothing items to create a bulletproof barrier that was resistant to most ammunition at the time. It was actually invented in anticipation of a fuel shortage and was intended to be used for automobile tires.
Although Kwolek is known for her development work on Kevlar and for improving the strength of her initial designs, she is also the recipient of 17 patents where she is either the primary inventor or listed as part of a team. Here is an overview of her work, which was always within the field of synthetic materials in one form or another throughout her extensive career. At the time of her induction, she was just the fourth female inventor in the hall of fame.
Perhaps even more important than the invention of Kevlar, Nomex is a flame resistant material that provides a high level of thermal protection. It was initially created to be included in a flight suit, but today it is one of the first choices that are used for anyone who faces fires as part of their job. Firefighters, professional racers, and even industrial workers all utilize Nomex fibers that were created by Kwolek and her team to be able to stay safe.
Why did Kwolek end up staying at DuPont for her entire career, even though she had a primary love for medicine? It was all about the chance to be able to save someone’s life every day. Between Kevlar and Nomex, she has done much to keep people save when they face potentially hazardous and possibly fatal working conditions.
2. Aromatic Polyamides
There are a number of ways to make synthetic fibers strong. One of the methods is to create a structure that has an unusually high melting point. Kwolek was working on a project that was developing abrasion-resistant materials with her team. Some of them stood up to the cold unusually well, but it was the aromatic polyamides that stood up to high heat applications very well. These items were intended to be included in both films and filaments.
3. Products Processes for Polyamides
In order to create all of the different synthetic fibers for DuPont’s applications, a process needed to be developed that would be able yield a large amount of nylon or other fiber for a cost-effective price. Kwolek worked on this process to create a new, very novel class of linear crystalline condensation polyamides and still be able to replicate them as well. This made it possible to develop multiple types of synthetics and create the foundation of materials that we see in a wide variety of applications today, from telephone cases to clothing.
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