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Lester Shubin

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Lester D Shubin September 27, 1925 - November 20, 2009 was a researcher who developed Kevlar for the use in ballistic vests Kevlar's use in ballistic vests was later expanded for use in all types of personal armor


Shubin was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and graduated from South Philadelphia High School in 1943 He served in the US Army during World War II After the war, Shubin worked as a chemist and joined the US Department of Justice in 1971

Shubin worked for many years at the National Institute of Justice "NIJ", the federal agency designated with research and development in the field of law enforcement technology At least one history of the development of police technology notes that in its first 20 years, "efforts in technology research and development were to a considerable degree a one-person effort, that person being Lester Shubin, a chemist"

In 1966, Stephanie Kwolek, a chemist working for EI DuPont de Nemours & Co, developed Kevlar; a strong, lightweight liquid polymer that can be spun into a fiber and woven into cloth Kevlar was initially used as a replacement for steel-belting in tires, and later for use in ropes, gaskets, and automotive and aviation parts In 1971, Shubin, who was then the Director of Science and Technology for the National Institute for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, suggested using Kevlar to replace nylon in bullet-proof vests Prior to the introduction of Kevlar, flak jackets made of nylon had provided much more limited protection to users Shubin later recalled how the idea developed: "We folded it over a couple of times and shot at it The bullets didn't go through" Shubin received a $5 million grant to research the use of the fabric in bullet-proof vests

In 1975, the federal government distributed 5,000 Kevlar vests to 15 police departments In the first year of deployment, two police officers wearing the vests were shot with handguns and two others were attacked with knives None of the assaulted officers suffered any serious injuries The first instance of a Kevlar vest saving a police officer from a bullet occurred on December 23, 1975, when a Seattle police officer was shot in the chest during a grocery store robbery Shubin later recalled travelling to Seattle to observe the results of the vest: "He was shot from only three feet away and he didn't even fall down, so the guy shot him again We rushed out to Seattle to see him All he had under the vest was two mean looking bruises"

In the 30-plus years since Shubin introduced the Kevlar bullet-proof vest, the vests have been credited with saving the lives of more than 3,000 law enforcement officers

Shubin was also an early advocate of using bomb-sniffing dogs to find explosives He recalled, "We learned that basically any dog could find explosives or drugs, even very small dogs like Chihuahuas, whose size could be an advantage Who is going to look twice at someone in a fur coat carrying a dog But that dog could smell a bomb as well as a German shepherd"

Shubin died of a heart attack on November 20, 2009 at the age of 84 Following Shubin's death, The Police News paid tribute to Shubin for the many lives he had saved through his development of the Kevlar vest:

"Many of us had the honor of meeting Lester D Shubin during an event in Washington, DC There are literally thousands of police officers alive today that can trace their survival back to Mr Shubin's work Please take a moment to remember the life of Lester D Shubin, 1925 - 2009"


  1. ^ a b c d e Patricia Sullivan 2009-11-26 "Lester D Shubin, 84: Developed the Kevlar bulletproof vest" The Washington Post 
  2. ^ "The Evolution and Development of Police Technology: A Technical Report prepared for The National Committee on Criminal Justice Technology National Institute of Justice Technology National Institute of Justice" Police Technology 1998-07-01 Retrieved 2009-12-01 
  3. ^ a b c Sharon Rose, Neil Schlager 2003 How things are made: from automobiles to zippers Black Dog & Leventhal ISBN 1-57912-274-4 
  4. ^ United States Congress Office of Technology Assessment August 1992 Police Body Armor Standards and Testing, p 97 US Govt Printing Office 
  5. ^ Corie Lok February 2005 "Life Vest: Lester Shubin and Nicholas Montanarelli turned Kevlar into lifesaving armor" Technology Review 
  6. ^ a b Simon Dunstan 1984 Flak jackets: 20th century military body armour p 31 Osprey Publishing ISBN 0-85045-569-3 
  7. ^ Ryan J Reilly 2009-11-30 "DOJ Researcher Of Bullet-Resistant Vests Dead at 84" Main Justice Archived from the original on 2013-01-28 
  8. ^ Ronald W McBride November 2009 "Developer of Kevlar bulletproof vest, Lester D Shubin, 84" The Police News Retrieved 2009-12-01 

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