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DOVER, Del. (AP) — Stephanie Kwolek, a former DuPont scientist credited with discovering the strong, lightweight fiber used in Kevlar in 1965, died this week at the age of 90. Here are five things to know about Kevlar, which has since become synonymous with body armor, and its inventor.
HISTORY: When Kwolek made her groundbreaking discovery, she and other DuPont scientists were looking for a strong, lightweight fiber that could replace steel in automobile tires, thereby decreasing weight and improving fuel economy. The potential for its use in body armor was realized after a colleague working on bulletproof vests asked Kwolek he could test a sample of her fiber.
More than 3,100 law enforcement officers have been honored as members of a "Survivors Club" established by DuPont and the International Association of Chiefs of Police to promote the use of body armor. Their stories can be viewed at http://iacp.dupont.com/SurvivorClub/Search
In addition to body armor and tires, Kevlar fibers can be found in a wide variety of applications, from spacesuits and airplanes to industrial clothing and underground mining equipment. Kevlar can be found in baseball bats, cellphones and notebook computers, sailboats and mine-resistant military vehicles.
WORTH FIGHTING FOR
In 2011, a federal jury in Virginia awarded $920 million to DuPont in a trades secret against a South Korean competitor over high-strength aramid fibers like those used in Kevlar products. A federal appeals court overturned the jury decision earlier this year, saying the trial judge abused his discretion in excluding evidence that was material to Kolon Industries' defense. DuPont says it it awaiting a retrial and expects to prevail.
Kwolek is the only woman in the history of DuPont to be honored with the company's Lavoisier Medal for outstanding technical achievement. In 1994, she became only the fourth woman inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and she was awarded the National Medal of Technology two years later. She was encouraging young women to pursue careers in science long before boosting education in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, became a political mantra. "She was doing it years ago," said former DuPont chemist and colleague Rita Vasta. "She wanted women to be successful in science."
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