Reading the newspaper this weekend, I was sad to learn that Stephanie Kwolek, inventor of Kevlar, died recently. Kevlar is best known for making body armour, but it’s also used in heat-protection gear, helicopter blades, bike tyres, ping pong bats, bowstrings, boat sails, tennis raquets, musical instruments, fire dancing props, frying pans, ropes, optical fibre cables, F1 racing cars, building construction, brake pads, rubber hoses, CERN particle physics experiments, wind and tidal turbines, and smartphones. Because it is such a ubiquitous product, I was surprised that one person was responsible for its invention, and that Kevlar has only been around since 1975.
We use Kevlar everyday; woven into gloves to protect our hands in post-mortems from over-enthusiastic scalpeling. (The idea of ‘bulletproof gloves’ is quite exciting when encountered for the first time, and therefore must always be accompanied with the disclaimer: “These gloves are glance-proof not stab-proof. They are designed for glancing blows ONLY. Please DO NOT stab yourself in the hand as an experiment.” Nevertheless, there’s always one…). You wouldn’t think Kevlar gloves would be so necessary (after all, how difficult is it to keep track of a blade?) but there are always a disconcertingly large number of slices out of the latex over-gloves by the end of a PM.
So to Stephanie Kwolek, with our unscarred hands we salute you.