Kwolek is quick to point out that many people work together to make new products, like aramid fibers. When Kwolek announced the test results, "everyone got very excited. We got together a group of people and we decided then there was commercial potential there, and the thing we had to do was find the right fiber for commercialization. Everybody got into the act, and it proved to be a very exciting, and sometimes frustrating, time." Some people were in charge of thinking up names (like Kevlar®), while others worked busily on submitting patent applications. There were chemists experimenting with similar liquid crystalline solutions, scientists thinking of ways to use and sell these superfibers, and others inventing new ways to spin these superfibers as well as stronger testing and cutting machines. Kwolek explains that "it turned out to be a great team effort in the end." And, Kwolek remembers lots of hard work: "Every day, there are highs and lows, there are times when you think the whole thing will sink because of all the problems that develop." Going from a discovery to a product that can be sold (product development) is a long process. It took ten years between the time Kwolek first stirred that test tube (1965) to the time bullet-resistant vests made with Kevlar® were available for sale (1975).
Today, aramid fibers are used to make boat hulls, bullet-resistant vests, coats, dress shirts, cut-resistant gloves, fiber-optic cables, firefighters' suits, fuel hoses, helmets, lumberjacks' suits, parts of airplanes, radial tires, special ropes, pieces of spacecraft, some kinds of bicycles, tennis rackets, canoes, and skis. Aramid fibers are stronger and lighter than steel. A vest made out of seven layers of aramid fibers weighs 2.5 pounds, but it can deflect a knife blade and stop a .38-caliber bullet shot from ten feet away.
Kwolek continued creating and experimenting with synthetic fibers. She never regretted sticking with chemistry instead of going to medical school. Although she never imagined she would grow up to be an inventor, she explains that "when you go to work for a comapny that does chemical research, one of the expectations is to invent things and particularly to invent things the company is interested in. So, eventually, you do invent something if you are interested enough and if you work hard enough. I was thrilled when I discovered liquid crystalline solutions." Still, she believes that "it takes a certain amount of luck, it takes being at the right place at the right time, because you may make an invention but no one may be interested in it at the time."
Stephanie Kwolek is proud that her invention has saved thousands of lives and is pleased that her lifetime of work on synthetic polymers earned her a place in the National Inventors Hall of Fame (in Akron, Ohio). Today she takes time off from her hobbies, sewing and gardening, to lecture about her life and invention. She is proof that a love of science can lead you in unexpected directions that might even include world-changing inventions! To students, Kwolek says, "Every person has value, no matter what you do. This is what you have to remember."