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 (Rad Lab) 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 "Rad Lab" 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 Rad Lab 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 Rad Lab formally closed on December 31, 1945, and its staff members resumed their 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 into the new Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT.
The Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT was the first of MIT's modern interdepartmental academic research centers. Today, RLE is one of MIT's largest such organizations, and the most diverse research laboratory at MIT in our scope of intellectual interests.
Research in RLE encompasses an extensive range of natural and man-made phenomena, and the projects are both basic and applied. Common among all RLE efforts is an expansive 21st century interpretation of the 20th century term “electronics,” starting at the most basic physical realm of particles and quantum physics and extending all the way to engineering application technologies relevant to modern day issues.
Research in RLE today is focused on seven major themes:
Seventy-two principal investigators in RLE—of whom sixty-four are members of the MIT faculty—direct the Laboratory's research projects. Our professors reflect the Laboratory’s diverse scope of intellectual interests, and are drawn from nine MIT academic departments and divisions:
Over three hundred MIT graduate and undergraduate students—also drawn from the MIT departments and divisions above—make RLE one of the primary environments for student learning at MIT. In fact, it is this combination of forefront research with student participation across multiple academic disciplines that characterize the RLE culture.