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Hagley presents captivating tale ‘Kevlar R&D: An Oral History’

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Hagley Museum and Library has released “Kevlar R&D: An Oral History.” The 13-hour video begins with the late chemist Stephanie L. Kwolek’s 1965 discovery of Kevlar.

Through many surprising twists, six subjects talk about how they helped make Kevlar serve the occasionally contradictory interests of the DuPont Co., scientific inquiry, the marketplace, and the general public.

The interviews include six people who each had a hand in the Kevlar process — chemists Herbert Blades and Wesley Memeger Jr.; engineers Donald Sturgeon, Bob Wolffe and Ted Merriman; and executive Irénée du Pont Jr.

“The history of technology shows that innovation is a team effort, and the stories documented by ‘Kevlar R&D’ reveal the work done by many talented individuals to bring Kevlar out of the laboratory and into our lives,” said Gregory Hargreaves, Hagley’s oral history project manager.

“After Dr. Kwolek’s death, we were fortunate enough to receive her collection of documents, photographs, and artifacts. It made sense to us to cover the spectrum of Kevlar’s development, from the laboratory to finished products,” said Erik Rau, director of library services at Hagley. The finding aid to her collection can be found at http://findingaids.hagley.org.

Herbert Blades developed a commercially viable process to spin fibers economically and at high speeds from the polymer to make Kevlar.

Wesley Memeger Jr. solved a major problem in making Kevlar. In the laboratory, Kevlar was polymerized in a mixture of two solvents, abbreviated HMPA and NMP. By researching the ratio of the solvents, he discovered that contrary to prior opinion a satisfactory polymer could be made using only HMPA. After concerns about toxicology, DuPont later replaced HMPA with NMP and calcium chloride.

Donald Sturgeon used his Ph.D. in engineering mechanics to evaluate the properties of Kevlar fibers for composite structures. He developed weight-saving Kevlar composites for the aircraft industry, bullet-resistant vests, and non-cut fabrics.

Bob Wolffe, who had a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, said in his interview that the most important application for Kevlar was in ballistics. He also worked on products for the aircraft industry, with the first applications for interior, non-structural uses.

Ted Merriman was instrumental in developing a pulped form of Kevlar fiber suitable for automobile brake lining after it was discovered in the late 1970s that the standard material, asbestos fiber, caused lung cancer. Brake pads even with very small amounts of Kevlar had good wear characteristics and were quieter than other types. In the early 1980s, Merriman was named the Kevlar product steward to ensure there were no health or safety problems for DuPont’s customers.

Irénée du Pont Jr., a mechanical engineer who joined the DuPont Co. after World War II, held a variety of jobs before joining the company’s ruling executive committee in 1967. During his tenure on the committee, DuPont had to deal with increasing competition, social unrest in Wilmington, equal opportunity legislation, and environmental regulation. His point of view on innovation was from the boardroom.

“Kevlar R&D: An Oral History” is available at http://vimeopro.com/hagleyoralhistory/kevlar.

Archival materials related to Kevlar can be found at http://www.hagley.org/library.

Wilmington Renaissance Corp. announces keynote speaker

Tanya Menendez, co-founder and chief marketing officer for Maker’s Row, will be keynote speaker at Wilmington Renaissance Corp.’s 2016 Annual Meeting: Wilmington’s Future Is in the Making, planned for May 10 at World Cafe Live at The Queen.

Maker’s Row is a Brooklyn-based online marketplace for American manufacturers with a network of more than 10,000 manufacturers and 100,000 brands creating products in the United States.

“We are thrilled to have Tanya Menendez joining us as our keynote speaker,” said Carrie W. Gray, WRC’s managing director. “Maker’s Row is an incredible example of how startups and entrepreneurs can take an idea, make it come to life, scaling up their manufacturing and creating a thriving, sustainable business that can become an economic driver. Maker’s Row is achieving their vision of growing and expanding American manufacturing.”

Growing up in California, Menendez studied technology and its socioeconomic impacts on rural economies at University of California-San Diego. Her research in ethnography and sociology was published in several industry-leading journals. Before Maker’s Row, she managed operations within Google, Goldman Sachs and a leather goods line, The Brooklyn Bakery. While at The Brooklyn Bakery, she came up with the idea to create a platform for entrepreneurs to be able to easily access American manufacturers.

Joining Menendez on the morning’s agenda will be Gov. Jack A. Markell, City of Wilmington Chief of Staff Gary Fullman and Dr. Evan Malone, CEO of NextFab Studio, a makerspace that will open later this year in Wilmington’s Creative District.

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