Timeline: 1946-1959

The following timeline provides a capsule narrative of RLE’s notable events and achievements, and some of the individuals who have played key roles in the Laboratory’s development and growth.

1946 – The Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) at MIT is founded as the successor to the Radiation Laboratory (RadLab) of World War II. RLE becomes the first, great inter-departmental laboratory of the modern Institute, and serves as the incubator for new research directions and organizations at MIT.

1948 – RLE doctoral student Thomas Cheatham, Jr. builds the first electronic analog correlator, paving the way for Henry Singleton’s digital correlator in 1949.

1950 – RLE’s Norbert Wiener begins studies to convert speech into a sequence of tactilely perceptible patterns that a totally deaf person might learn to interpret.

1950 – J.C.R. Licklider joins RLE from Harvard’s Psycho-acoustic Lab, and stimulates communications biophysics research at RLE. Walter Rosenblith will follow in 1953.

1951 – RLE research in continental air defense, associated with MIT’s Project Charles, helps to spawn Lincoln Laboratory.

1952 – RLE’s Jerrold Zacharias, James Yates, and R.D. Haun produce the first practical atomic clock, based on atomic beam frequency standards developed by Zacharias.

1954 – The TX-0 computer, constructed at Lincoln Laboratory, moves to RLE, where it hosts early imaginative tests of programming, including a Western movie shown on TV and 3-D tic-tac-toe.

1955 – RLE’s Norbert Wiener, John Barlow and Walter Rosenblith observe the auto-correlation function of brain waves, promoting the application of statistical communication techniques to communication biophysics.

1955 – Joseph R. Applegate comes to MIT to join RLE’s mechanical translation project. He becomes MIT’s first African-American faculty member when he is appointed Assistant Professor of Modern Languages the following year.

1956 – RLE’s Dudley A. Buck invents the cryotron, the first practical device exploiting superconductivity, which becomes a revolutionary component for miniaturizing the room-sized computers typical through the early 1950s.

1956 – Claude E. Shannon joins RLE’s Processing and Transmission of Information group. RLE begins collaboration with the new Eaton-Peabody Laboratory at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, where RLE’s Nelson Y.S. Kiang is the first director.

1957 – RLE moves into the Compton Laboratories (Building 26) with the Laboratory for Nuclear Science and MIT’s Computation Center.

1958 – RLE’s John McCarthy develops the LISP programming language that can manipulate symbolic expressions as well as code and debug major subroutines.

1959 – Robert N. Noyce, who had been a graduate research assistant in RLE’s Physical Electronics Group from 1949 to 1953, co-invents the integrated circuit at Fairchild Semiconductor which he co-founded in two years earlier. He later co-founds Intel in 1968.

1959 – RLE’s Jerome Lettvin and Walter Pitts publish their landmark neurophysiological research in the paper, “What the Frog’s Eye Tells the Frog’s Brain.”

1959 – Julius A. Stratton, RLE’s first Director, is appointed eleventh President of MIT.