Stephanie L. Kwolek

Born: July 31, 1923 | New Kensington, PA, US
Died: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 | Talleyville, DE, US
Photograph of Stephanie Kwolek

CHF Collections, Photograph by Harry Kalish

Stephanie Kwolek starts this interview by describing her family background. Her father's early death meant that her mother had to work to support Kwolek and her brother, who later became a chemical engineer. At the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Kwolek shifted her interests from medicine to chemistry. Deciding to enter industry, she accepted a position with the Rayon Department of DuPont at Buffalo. There, she started her career in polymer synthesis and worked with Izard, Wittbecker, and Morgan. When the laboratory moved to Wilmington, Kwolek was associated with the low ¬temperature polymerization program. In the interview, Kwolek then discusses the nylon rope trick, DuPont promotion policy, and liquid crystalline polymers. She concludes with her reflections on colleagues and DuPont consultants.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0028
No. of pages: 37
Minutes: 120

Interview Sessions

Raymond C. Ferguson
5 April 1986
Sharpley, Delaware

Abstract of Interview

Stephanie Kwolek starts this interview by describing her family background. Her father's early death meant that her mother had to work to support Kwolek and her brother, who later became a chemical engineer. At the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Kwolek shifted her interests from medicine to chemistry. Deciding to enter industry, she accepted a position with the Rayon Department of DuPont at Buffalo. There, she started her career in polymer synthesis and worked with Izard, Wittbecker, and Morgan. When the laboratory moved to Wilmington, Kwolek was associated with the low -temperature polymerization program. In the interview, Kwolek then discusses the nylon rope trick, DuPont promotion policy, and liquid crystalline polymers. She concludes with her reflections on colleagues and DuPont consultants.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1946 Carnegie Mellon University BS Chemistry

Professional Experience

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.

1946 to 1959
Chemist
1959 to 1967
Research Chemist
1967 to 1974
Senior Research Chemist
1974 to 1986
Research Associate
1986
Consultant

National Academy of Sciences

1986
Research Council, Consultant

Honors

Year(s) Award
1959

Publication Award, Delaware Section, American Chemical Society

1976

Howard N. Potts Medal, Franklin Institute of Philadelphia

1978

Award for Contributions to Kevlar (du Pont trademark for aramid fiber) American Society for Metals

1980

Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists

1980

Award for Creative Invention, American Chemical Society

1981

Honorary Doctor of Science degree, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

1983

Alumni Association Merit Award, Carnegie-Mellon University

1985

Engineering/Technology Award, Society of Plastics Engineers

1985

Polymer Processing Hall of Fame, University of Akron

1988

Harold DeWitt Smith Memorial Award, American Society of Testing Materials

1990

du Pont Honoree at the Bicentennial Celebration of the United States Patent and Copyright Laws

1995

Inducted member of the Inventor's Hall of Fame

1997

Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education
1

Parents and early death of father, mother forced to support Kwolek and her brother. Schooling in New Kensington, Pennsylvania.

College Education
5

Women's college of Carnegie Institute of Technology. Change of interest from medicine to chemistry.

DuPont at Buffalo
8

Decision to take post at DuPont Rayon laboratories. Polymer synthesis with Izard and Wittbecker. Collaboration with Paul Morgan. Social life; salary.

DuPont at Wilmington
13

Reactions to move to Pioneering Research Laboratory. Low-temperature polycondensation; the nylon rope trick. Promotion within DuPont research organization. Liquid crystalline polymers. Colleagues at Wilmington.

Retirement Activities
20

Patent litigation. Polyazomethines. Academic consultants, Flory and Mark.

Notes
32
Index
33

About the Interviewer

Raymond C. Ferguson

Raymond C. Ferguson obtained his degrees in chemistry from Iowa State University (BS, MS) and Harvard University (PhD). He worked in research divisions of the Organic Chemicals, Elastomer Chemicals, and Central Research Departments of DuPont, principally in molecular spectroscopy, organic structure analysis, and polymer characterization. Currently he is affiliated with CONDUX, Inc., a consulting association of former DuPont professionals.