Innovative Lives

The middle school students who attended Stephanie Kwolek's Innovative Lives presentation had lots of questions about Kevlar® and her life as an inventor.

Kevlar® Q: How did inventing this fiber change your life? How do you feel about yourself now that you've saved millions of lives?

A: "Well, it makes me feel very good. I have an FBI man who lives across the street from me. He's a very nice person. Every once in a while he brings over a policeman to meet me or especially someone whose life has been saved [by Kevlar]."
"It makes me feel very good, because not many people have the opportunity to invent something, or to work on something, that has such significance, and particularly that is of benefit to mankind. I consider myself to be a very lucky person."

Q: Did you ever worry about not getting credit for your discovery?

A: "No. Generally, when you work as a scientist and you work for a company, I don't think your main objective is getting credit. I think your main objective is making something that is going to be of benefit to mankind. Of course, you want to get paid, but that is secondary to the importance of the job and the fun you are having."

Q: Are you a millionaire?

A: "No! I don't think most inventors who work for companies are."

Q: What are your favorite inventions, or your favorite inventors? Any women inventors?

A: Ms. Kwolek admires famous inventors like Thomas Edison and is interested in the invention of new medicines. When she was growing up, she didn't know any inventors who were women.

Q: What advice do you have for young people?

A: Ms. Kwolek encourages young people to study science, and "don't give up on chemistry if that's what you love," because "in the future there certainly is going to be chemistry, and plenty of it, and chemical research, but what I would do is get a broader education. I would combine chemistry with physics and mathematics, and then I think I would take a number of business courses and probably some other courses, something that might broaden your experience and way of thinking."

All text and images © Smithsonian Institution. Updated 5 February 1999.

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