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.

1948RLE 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.

1951RLE 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.

1957RLE 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.