Since the pioneering work of Carothers which led to the introduction of strong nylon fibers by DuPont in the 1930s, polymer scientists have pursued the development of high-performance fibers to replace natural or metallic products, both to improve mechanical properties and to reduce weight. That development was relatively slow and evenly paced until DuPont again revolutionized the field with the release of Kevlar™, an aromatic polyamide with unprecedented mechanical properties. Since then, the field has literally boomed with new developments, and now organic fibers are available with properties that compete with the best inorganics and are far superior to metal fibers.
Strong motivation for the invention of new organic fibers comes from the aerospace industry, which seeks fibers to use in reinforced composite structural materials. Composites bring new advances in stiffness (airplane wings can't bend too much!) in weight savings (every kilogram saved in the structure of an airplane saves $120 over its lifetime, and in a spacecraft $10,000), and in radically new ideas, such as radar-invisibility (stealth)5 and mission-adaptive wings (in-flight variable-shape wings). Hence, for a variety of specialty applications, otherwise commercially indefensible materials become viable.
It may be somewhat counter intuitive to materials scientists unfamiliar with polymers to expect polymer mechanical properties to be greater than in the best metals. The origin of high strength and stiffness in a polymer fiber is the covalent bond, especially when aligned in an ordered array of long chain molecules.