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Kevlar inventor Stephanie Kwolek dies at 90

Jun. 19, 2014 - 04:26PM   |  
Stephanie Kwolek in 2007 displays regular household gloves made with the Kevlar she invented while working at DuPont.
Stephanie Kwolek in 2007 displays regular household gloves made with the Kevlar she invented while working at DuPont. (Jennifer Corbett/The News Journal)
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Stephanie Kwolek, a DuPont researcher whose invention, Kevlar, saved countless lives as the essential ingredient in bulletproof vests, has died, a friend has confirmed.

Kwolek, of Wilmington, Del., was 90. She died Wednesday after a brief illness, said the friend, Rita Vasta, who is handling Kwolek's affairs after her death. Kwolek had no remaining family, Vasta said.

Kwolek developed Kevlar by spinning fiber from liquid crystalline solutions. Kevlar's lightweight, durable qualities have made it an enduring material used in bulletproof vests and other protection equipment used by police and soldiers.

DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman said in a statement on Thursday: "We are all saddened at the passing of DuPont scientist Stephanie Kwolek, a creative and determined chemist and a true pioneer for women in science. Her synthesis of the first liquid crystal polymer and the invention of DuPont Kevlar highlighted a distinguished career."

In 1996, Kwolek won the National Medal of Technology "for her contributions to the discovery, development and liquid crystal processing of high-performance aramid fibers, which provide new products worldwide to save lives and benefit humankind." She was just the third DuPont scientist to win a National Medal of Technology or Science, Kullman said.

"She leaves a wonderful legacy of thousands of lives saved and countless injuries prevented by products made possible by her discovery," Kullman said.

Kevlar has increasingly been used for alternative applications, including sporting equipment, as it minimizes vibration and can bend without shattering. DuPont recently agreed to serve as a sponsor of the ESPN X Games, which makes liberal use of Kevlar in the sporting equipment.

DuPont is celebrating Kevlar's 50th anniversary next year. Her death came a day after DuPont Protection Technologies announced that a million bullet-resistant vests had been sold using DuPont Kevlar XP since that version of the product was launched in 2008.

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