Stephanie L. Kwolek
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Stephanie Kwolek begins the interview with a discussion of her early career at DuPont. She joined DuPont in 1946, the same year she earned her BS in chemistry at Carnegie-Mellon University. Kwolek spent much of her time working on polymers, including aliphatic and aromatic polyamides. She discusses her level of independence in the laboratory, as well as her relationship with her supervisors. Kwolek began work with 1,4-B and was able to get a high molecular weight polymer. It was eventually discovered that the polymer spun beautifully and was quite strong. This polymer became Kevlar. Kwolek describes industry competition, the testing and scale-up of Kevlar, and the problems of confidentiality. She further discusses the relationship between Kevlar and Paul Flory's theory of liquid polymer crystals. Kwolek concludes the interview with comments on her love of writing, her decision to leave DuPont, and the future of polymer research.
|1946||Carnegie Mellon University||BS||Chemistry|
E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.
National Academy of Sciences
Publication Award, Delaware Section, American Chemical Society
Howard N. Potts Medal, Franklin Institute of Philadelphia
Award for Contributions to Kevlar (du Pont trademark for aramid fiber), American Society for Medals
Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists
Award for Creative Invention, American Chemical Society
Honorary Doctor of Science Award, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Alumni Association Merit Award, Carnegie-Mellon Universit
Engineering/Technology Award, Society of Plastics Engineers
Polymer Processing Hall of Fame, University of Akron
Harold DeWitt Smith Memorial Award, American Society of Testing Materials
<p>du Pont Honoree at the Bicentennial Celebration of the United States Patent and Copyright du Pont Honoree at the Bicentennial Celebration of the United States Patent and Copyright Laws
Inducted member of Inventor's Hall of Fame
Perkin Medal Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)
Table of Contents
Entering industry with a BS degree. Methods of polymerization. Aliphatic polyamides. Aromatic polyamides. Emphasis on long-term research. Hale Charch. Paul Morgan. Independence in laboratory.
Finding a solvent for 1,4-B. Spinning the polymer. Commercial opportunity in radial tires. Discovery of bullet-resistance. PVDT. Competition. Scaling up Kevlar. Secrecy.
Paul Flory. Kevlar as theoretical discovery. Publishing results.
Importance of clarity in writing. Necessity of honesty. Knowing when to abandon a line of research.
Decision to leave DuPont. Trend towards improving old products. Necessity of basic research. Future of innovation. Laboratory atmosphere. Colleagues. Choosing research projects. Current activities. Consulting.
About the Interviewer
Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Université Paris X. She holds a doctorate in philosophy from the Sorbonne, and is currently a fellow at the Dibner Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Bensaude-Vincent is the author of numerous articles and books on the history of chemistry and physics, including Eloge du mixte: matériaux nouveaux et philosophie ancienne. In 1997, she received the Dexter Award for outstanding achievement in the history of chemistry.