RLE History

The Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was founded in 1946 as the successor to the famed MIT Radiation Laboratory (RadLab) of World War II.

During the war, large scale research at the RadLab was devoted to the rapid development of microwave radar. Projects included physical electronics, microwave physics, electromagnetic properties of matter, and microwave communication principles. The “RadLab” designed almost half of the radar deployed in World War II, created over 100 different radar systems, and constructed $1.5 billion worth of radar.

At the height of its activities, the RadLab employed nearly 4,000 people working on several continents. What began as a British-American effort to make microwave radar work, evolved into a centralized laboratory committed to understanding the theories behind experimental radar while solving its engineering problems.

The RadLab formally closed on December 31, 1945, and its staff members resumed peacetime activities. In its wake remained tons of surplus equipment and the concept for a basic research center that was to continue in RLE.

On January 1, 1946, under the sponsorship of the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development, the RadLab’s Basic Research Division continued work at MIT as a transitional organization. Under the leadership of Director Julius A. Stratton and Associate Director Albert G. Hill, it continued investigation on problems in physical electronics that involved cathodes, electronic emission, and gaseous conduction. In microwave physics, the electromagnetic properties of matter at microwave frequencies were studied. Modern techniques were applied to both physics and engineering research, and in microwave communications, engineering applications were emphasized.

On July 1, 1946, the Basic Research Division was finally incorporated in to the new Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT.

RLE has been a catalyst for important discoveries expanding our basic understanding of nature and in the application of that understanding, a leader in the interdisciplinary approach to problems in science and engineering, and the progenitor of research efforts that have grown to become other major MIT laboratories and centers.

This exciting spirit of discovery continues today.