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Kevlar’s 40th Anniversary

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the discovery of Kevlar® by DuPont™ scientist Stephanie Kwolek. A manmade organic fiber that is five times stronger than steel (on an equal weight basis), Kevlar is well known for improving officer safety through its use in bullet-and-stab resistant body armor. In fact, the IACP/DuPont Kevlar Survivors Club has recognized nearly 3,000 officers who have survived life threatening injuries as a result of wearing protective body armor.

DuPont Kevlar, the high-performance material that has helped save thousands of lives around the world, marks its 40th anniversary this fall with a host of new and emerging innovations—ranging from an in-home storm shelter made with Kevlar that helps provide families protection from the dangers of hurricanes and tornadoes, to emerging ultra-strong protective applications in supporting the “soldier of the future.”

DuPont Kevlar, an organic fiber in the aramid family, uniquely combines high strength with light weight, and comfort with protection. The rigid molecular structure of Kevlar also provides additional properties such as thermal stability and high resistance to many threats and dangers, including protecting against thermal hazards up to 800 deg F.

Groundbreaking research by DuPont scientist Stephanie Kwolek in the field of liquid crystalline polymer solutions in the fall of 1965 formed the basis for the commercial preparation of the Kevlar aramid fiber. Kwolek has earned broad global accolades for her work—including receiving the 1996 National Medal of Technology.

Kevlar is perhaps best known for its use in bullet-and-stab resistant body armor. In law enforcement applications alone, nearly 3,000 officers have survived potentially fatal or disabling injuries because they were wearing personal body armor. In addition, helmets of DuPont Kevlar have been standard issue for the US Army since the Gulf War in 1991. The balance of unusual properties enables the broad range of Kevlar applications today from ballistic vests to cut-resistant gloves to blast and flame barriers.

“DuPont Kevlar helps protect the everyday heroes around the world who put their lives on the line each day—military and law enforcement professionals, firefighters, and other first responders,” said William J. Harvey, vice president and general manager—DuPont Advanced Fiber Systems. “Because threats are dynamic and ever-changing, we are continuing to put our science to work, developing innovations to help protect people, properties, and operations every day.”

Current DuPont research and development initiatives with Kevlar include working as a founding partner with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the US Department of Defense in developing new protective materials for the “soldier of the future” as part of the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN).

The ISN’s goal is to increase the protection and survivability of US soldiers with new technologies. Reducing logistical footprints are especially important to an in-field soldier whose standard-issue gear now weighs upwards of 100 pounds. The goal is reducing the load to about 45 pounds.

“Threats are never static and always evolving,” said retired US Major General D. Allen Youngman. “Lightweight, breathable body armor on a soldier is the key need for tomorrow’s military.”

The United States Custom and Border Protection (CBP) Border Patrol recently agreed to outfit its agents with protective vests containing new DuPont Kevlar Comfort XLT technology—allowing vests to weigh at least 25% less than current all-aramid fabric designs while maintaining the same high levels of ballistic performance.

For the future, DuPont is currently developing a range of next-generation materials to complement the unique attributes of Kevlar. DuPont is working with Magellan Systems International in developing M5®, an ultra high-strength performance fiber.

As a next generation material in protective applications, M5 contains unique attributes of strength, stiffness, and resistance to high temperatures. While still under development, the M5 material has a range of potential uses to enhance protection of military and law enforcement personnel, fire fighters, and industrial workers, and also to address needs in high-performance industrial and commercial applications.

Published in Law and Order, Feb 2006

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