Oral history interview with Stephanie L. Kwolek (1998)

Oral history interview with Stephanie L. Kwolek (1998)

  • 1998-Mar-21
Photograph of Stephanie Kwolek
CHF Collections, Photograph by Harry Kalish

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 B.S. 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.

Interviewee
Interviewer
Place of interview
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Original file type PDF, MP3, JPEG
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Extent
  • 38 pages
Language
Subject
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

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.

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Interviewee biographical information

Born
  • July 31, 1923
  • New Kensington, Pennsylvania, United States
Died
  • June 17, 2014
  • Talleyville, Delaware, United States

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1946 Carnegie Mellon University BS Chemistry

Professional Experience

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company

  • 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 (U.S.)

  • 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 Medals
1980 Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists
1980 Award for Creative Invention, American Chemical Society
1981 Honorary Doctor of Science Award, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
1983 Alumni Association Merit Award, Carnegie-Mellon Universit
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 du Pont Honoree at the Bicentennial Celebration of the United States Patent and Copyright Laws
1995 Inducted member of Inventor's Hall of Fame
1997 Perkin Medal Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)

Cite as

Stephanie Kwolek, interviewed by Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent in Wilmington, Delaware on March 21, 1998. Philadelphia: Science History Institute, n.d. Oral History Transcript 0168. https://digital.sciencehistory.org/works/vh53ww75r.

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PDF — 270 KB
kwolek_sl_0168_FULL.pdf

The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

4 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads