Stephanie Kwolek originally planned to become a doctor. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in chemistry, she took a job at DuPont in order to raise money for further study. She found the polymer research she worked on so interesting that she decided to drop her plans for medical school and make chemistry a lifetime career. Kwolek is best known for her work during the 1950s and 1960s with aromatic polyamides, a type of polymer that can be made into strong, stiff, and flame-resistant fibers. She unexpectedly discovered that under certain conditions large numbers of these molecules form liquid crystalline solutions, and that these solutions can be spun into fibers of very high strength and stiffness. This polymer was released commercially under the name Kevlar. Over her 40-year career at Dupont, Kwolek would file 28 patents. In addition to Kevlar, she contributed to products such as Spandex (Lycra), Nomex, and Kapton.

Learn more at the American Chemical Society.