There are many times that I wonder about the impact of my work. I know I see results on a daily basis, but I wish there was a way to know what changes I am having on a long term basis.
I suspect that Stephanie Kwolek felt the same way.
Ms. Kwolek died this week at age 90. She was the inventor of Kelvar, the bulletproof fiber used in protective vests. Ironically, on the day she died, DuPont announced that the one-millionth vest made with Kevlar was sold. I wonder how many lives she saved from her invention.
More than the lives she saved from the direct impact of her work, Ms. Kwolek likely changed the career path for many women. She was a scientist in the 1960s, when women in the laboratory were rare. She is still the only female employee of DuPont to be awarded the medal for outstanding technical achievement. And after her retirement, she tutored high school students in chemistry and encouraged women to pursue a career in the sciences.
Stephanie Kwolek wanted to be a doctor but couldn’t afford medical school, so she went into research instead. She spent 15 years in the lab without a promotion before her “failed” experiments to find a new material to replace steel in tires led to Kevlar. She never benefited financially from the development of Kevlar, but we all benefited immeasurably from her.
Even if you can’t see it today, keep sharing the gifts and talents you have. You never know the lives you are influencing.
Sources: Woman who invented Kevlar fiber dies at 90, Associated Press in Telegraph Herald, 6-21-14
Stephanie L. Kwolek, Inventor of Kelvar, Is Dead at 90, Jeremy Pearce, New York Times, 6-20-14