Radiation Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

From Academic Kids

The Radiation Laboratory or often RadLab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology was in operation from October 1940 until December 31, 1945. The Radiation Laboratory was one division of the National Defense Research Committee, a commission established by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt under the leadership of MIT President Karl T. Compton and Dean of Engineering Vannevar Bush. Lee A. DuBridge was appointed director of the laboratory, later succeded by A.J. Allen. (Other Radiation Laboratories were established by the NDRC at Harvard University, at Columbia University under I.I. Rabi, and at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute.)

The lab was initially set up as a joint Anglo-American project, largely inspired by the British invention of simple radar and that of the cavity magnetron pioneered at Birmingham University by Watson and Boot in 1940 and quickly exported to the United States for further development.

The lab's activities eventually encompassed physical electronics, electromagnetic properties of matter, microwave physics, and microwave communication principles, and the lab made fundamental advances in all of these fields. Half of the radar deployed during World War II was designed at the RadLab, including over 100 different radar systems, and $1.5 billion worth of radar. All of it improved considerably on systems such as Robert Watson-Watt's Chain Home. At the height of its activities, the RadLab employed nearly 4,000 people working on several continents. The RadLab constructed and was the initial occupant of MIT's famous building 20, the longest-surviving World War II temporary structure (now demolished), at a cost of just over $1 million.

When the RadLab closed, the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development agreed to continue funding for the RadLab's Basic Research Division, which officially became part of MIT on July 1, 1946 as the Research Laboratory of Electronics. Other wartime research was taken up by the Laboratory for Nuclear Science, which was founded at the same time. Both labs principally occupied building 20 until 1957, and maintained space there until the building was closed.

Most of the important research results of the RadLab were published in a twenty-eight-volume compilation entitled the MIT Radiation Laboratory Series between 1947 and 1953, which is no longer in print. The series was rereleased as a two-CD-ROM set in 1999 (ISBN 1-58053-074-5).

With the cryptology and cryptographic efforts centered at Bletchley Park and Arlington Hall and the Manhattan Project, the development of microwave radar at the Radiation Laboratory represents one of the most significant, massive, secret, and outstandingly successful technological efforts spawned by the conflict of World War II and the Anglo-American alliance.



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