Naval Research Laboratory (NRL)

The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) is the Navy's corporate laboratory. NRL conducts a broadly-based multidisciplinary program of scientific research and advanced technological development directed toward maritime applications of new and improved materials, techniques, equipment, system, and ocean, atmospheric, and space sciences and related technologies. NRL is a field command under the Chief of Naval Research and has approximately 3,300 personnel (over 1900 research staff - nearly half of these PhD's) who address basic research issues concerning the Navy's environment of sea, sky, and space.

The Laboratory's parent organization is the Office of Naval Research (ONR) which coordinates, executes, and promotes the science and technology programs of the United States Navy and Marine Corps through universities, government laboratories, and nonprofit and for-profit organizations.

The Naval Research Laboratory is located in Washington, D.C., and at Naval Research Laboratory field sites located at Maryland Point, Blossom Point, Chesapeake Beach, Brandywine, Tilghman Island, Pax River, and Pomonkey in Maryland, and Quantico, Virginia.

NRL was commissioned in 1923 by Congress for the Department of the Navy. The first step came in May 1915, a time when Americans were deeply worried about the great European war. Thomas Edison, when asked by a New York Times correspondent to comment on the conflict, argued that the Nation should look to science. ``The Government,'' he proposed in a published interview, ``should maintain a great research laboratory.... In this could be developed...all the technique of military and naval progression without any vast expense.'' Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels seized the opportunity created by Edison's public comments to enlist Edison's support. He agreed to serve as the head of a new body of civilian experts - the Naval Consulting Board - to advise the Navy on science and technology. The Board's most ambitious plan was the creation of a modern research facility for the Navy. Congress allocated $1.5 million for the institution in 1916, but wartime delays and disagreements within the Naval Consulting Board postponed construction until 1920.

The Laboratory's two original divisions, Radio and Sound, pioneered in the fields of high-frequency radio and underwater sound propagation. They produced communications equipment, direction-finding devices, sonar sets, and, perhaps most significant of all, the first practical radar equipment built in this country. They also performed basic research, participating, for example, in the discovery and early exploration of the ionosphere. Moreover, the Laboratory was able to work gradually toward its goal of becoming a broadly based research facility. By the beginning of World War II, five new divisions had been added: Physical Optics, Chemistry, Metallurgy, Mechanics and Electricity, and Internal Communications.

Total employment at the Laboratory jumped from 396 in 1941 to 4400 in 1946, expenditures from $1.7 million to $13.7 million, the number of buildings from 23 to 67, and the number of projects from 200 to about 900. During WWII, scientific activities necessarily were concentrated almost entirely on applied research. New electronics equipment - radio, radar, sonar - was developed. Countermeasures were devised. New lubricants were produced, as were antifouling paints, luminous identification tapes, and a sea marker to help save survivors of disasters at sea. A thermal diffusion process was conceived and used to supply some of the 235U isotope needed for one of the first atomic bombs. Also, many new devices that developed from booming wartime industry were type tested and then certified as reliable for the Fleet.

Because of the major scientific accomplishments of the war years, the United States emerged into the post-war era determined to consolidate its wartime gains in science and technology and to preserve the working relationship between its armed forces and the scientific community. While the Navy was establishing its Office of Naval Research (ONR) as a liaison with and supporter of basic applied scientific research, it was also encouraging NRL to broaden its scope and become, in effect, its corporate research laboratory. There was a transfer of NRL to the administrative oversight of ONR and a parallel shift of the Laboratory's research emphasis to one of long-range basic and applied investigation in a broad range of the physical sciences.

However, rapid expansion during the war had left NRL improperly structured to address long-term Navy requirements. One major task - neither easily nor rapidly accomplished - was that of reshaping and coordinating research. This was achieved by transforming a group of largely autonomous scientific divisions into a unified institution with a clear mission and a fully coordinated research program. The first attempt at reorganization vested power in an executive committee composed of all the division superintendents. This committee was impracticably large, so in 1949 a civilian director of research was named and given full authority over the program. Positions for associate directors were added in 1954.

During the years since the war, the areas of study at the Laboratory have included basic research concerning the Navy's environments of Earth, sea, sky, and space. Investigations have ranged widely from monitoring the Sun's behavior, to analyzing marine atmospheric conditions, to measuring parameters of the deep oceans. Detection and communication capabilities have benefited by research that has exploited new portions of the electromagnetic spectrum,extended ranges to outer space, and provided means of transferring information reliably and securely, even through massive jamming. Submarine habitability, lubricants, shipbuilding materials, fire fighting, and the study of sound in the sea, have also been steadfast concerns.

The Laboratory has pioneered naval research into space, from atmospheric probes with captured V-2 rockets, through direction of the Vanguard project - America's first satellite program - to involvement in such projects as the Navy's Global Positioning System. As part of the SDI program, the Low-Power Atmospheric Compensation Experiment (LACE) satellite was designed and built by NRL. Today, NRL is the Navy's lead laboratory in space systems research, fire research, tactical electronic warfare, microelectronic devices, and artificial intelligence. NRL has also evaluated new issues, such as the effects of intense radiation and various forms of shock and vibration on aircraft, ships, and satellites.

The consolidation of NRL and the Naval Oceanographic and Atmospheric Research Laboratory (NOARL), with centers at Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and Monterey, California, has added new strengths to the Laboratory. NRL now serves as the lead Navy laboratory for research in ocean and atmospheric sciences with special strengths in physical oceanography, marine geosciences, ocean acoustics, marine meteorology, and remote oceanic and atmospheric sensing. The expanded Laboratory is focusing its research efforts on new Navy strategic interests and needs in the post-Cold War world. Although not abandoning its interests in blue water operations and research the Navy is also focusing on defending American interests in the world's littoral regions. NRL scientists and engineers are working to give the Navy the special knowledge and capabilities it needs to operate in these waters.

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