24 marca 2009

Stephanie Kwolek, The Kevlar Goddess

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. The idea behind it is very noble, so I'm adding a few words from myself in this subject.
My current post is about Stephanie Kwolek, one of those brilliant women, who - for some mysterious reasons - very often are left out of the spotlight and don't get as much attention as they deserve.

I bet most of you were convinced that it was actually a man who invented kevlar, eh? But no, not this time. Just in case you're from some another planet - Kevlar, the light-weight heavy-duty synthetic fiber (five times stronger than steel!) is used mainly by the military and police (body armor), but it is also favored by sports professionals (eg. bicycle tires, canoes and sailing equipment, among many others), not mentioning the production of cars and aeroplanes, etc. In general, if you're really clever, you can find more than 200 applications for this extraordinary fiber.

One of the less known facts about Stephanie Kwolek is that she came from a polish immigrant family (that's one of the reasons I chose her for this post). She's been always interested in science (encouraged by her father). Her first choice was medical school, but she couldn't afford it (luckily for the world, if I may say so), so she chose chemistry specialization instead. After getting a job at DuPont Labs, she became the head of a research team, whose goal was to create even stronger fibers with better qualities. The basic idea were fibers for clothes (and Stephanie Kwolek has been always interested in fashion and clothing design), but the research program assimilated another field of interest - polymer fibers. Stephanie Kwolek experimented with several methods of creating different kinds of fiber and after some trials - she "gave birth" to our all-time favorite Kevlar.

Her work gave way to inventing other fibers, eg. Spandex (hello, Xmen!) and Nomex (used for electrical isolation). By now, Stephanie Kwolek is a recipient as much as 17 US patents, imagine that! Of course, all of her inventions and brilliant work were suitably noted - she recieved many prestigeous awards, including US National Medal of Technology.

Another very important thing is, that she still is active (being born in 1923!), as a part-time consultant at DuPont and most importantly she still finds time to meet young people (especially young women), encourage them to work in the scientific field and to never give up.

I wonder, can you think of any female scientists of 21st century? Take a moment to think about it and be sure to write a name as a comment below. Me and Ada would appreciate it a lot :wink:

Important links for today:
http://findingada.com/ and http://ada.pint.org.uk/

PS. And just for the record - Ada Lovelace (the only daughter of Lord Byron, born in 1815) was the first person to write the world’s first computer programmes for the Analytical Engine, a general-purpose machine that Charles Babbage had invented.

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