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Today in Chemistry History – Stephanie Kwolek and Kevlar

Infographic on Stephanie Kwolek: born 31 July 1923, died 18 June 2014. Kwolek created the polymer known as Kevlar while working for the chemicals company DuPont. She also developed the ‘nylon rope trick’ classroom demonstration, which produces nylon in a beaker at room temperature. Kevlar is a polymer, a long molecule formed from the reaction of many smaller molecules known as monomers. Kevlar is used in body armour and bulletproof vests due to its high tensile strength. It is also used in fighter plane panels and wings, petrol tanks for Formula 1 cars, cut-resistant gloves, car and bicycle tyres, some ping pong bats, and some mobile phone casings. In 1995 Kwolek received DuPont’s Lavoisier medal for her research, and is still the only woman to have received this award.

Today marks the date of birth of Stephanie Kwolek, the US chemist who discovered the widely used polymer Kevlar. She also developed the nylon rope trick, in which nylon can be produced in a beaker at room temperature – a demonstration which is still used in classrooms today. In addition to this she is the to date the only woman to have been awarded DuPont’s Lavoisier Medal for outstanding contributions.

This graphic takes a quick look at the structure of Kevlar, and a selection from its impressive range of applications. To read more about Kwolek and Kevlar, check out the previous post on the site here.

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