The Radiation Laboratory, commonly called the Rad Lab, was a microwave and radar research laboratory located at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts (US). It was first created in October 1940 and operated until 31 December 1945 when its functions were dispersed to industry, other departments within MIT, and in 1951, the newly formed MIT Lincoln Laboratory.
Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths ranging from about one meter to one millimeter; with frequencies between 300 MHz (1 m) and 300 GHz (1 mm). Different sources define different frequency ranges as microwaves; the above broad definition includes both UHF and EHF bands. A more common definition in radio engineering is the range between 1 and 100 GHz. In all cases, microwaves include the entire SHF band at minimum. Frequencies in the microwave range are often referred to by their IEEE radar band designations: S, C, X, Ku, K, or Ka band, or by similar NATO or EU designations.
Radar is a detection system that uses radio waves to determine the range, angle, or velocity of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. A radar system consists of a transmitter producing electromagnetic waves in the radio or microwaves domain, a transmitting antenna, a receiving antenna and a receiver and processor to determine properties of the object(s). Radio waves from the transmitter reflect off the object and return to the receiver, giving information about the object's location and speed.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Institute is a land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant university, with an urban campus that extends more than a mile (1.6 km) alongside the Charles River. The Institute also encompasses a number of major off-campus facilities such as the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, the Bates Center, and the Haystack Observatory, as well as affiliated laboratories such as the Broad and Whitehead Institutes. Founded in 1861 in response to the increasing industrialization of the United States, MIT adopted a European polytechnic university model and stressed laboratory instruction in applied science and engineering. It has since played a key role in the development of many aspects of modern science, engineering, mathematics, and technology, and is widely known for its innovation and academic strength, making it one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the world.
The use of microwaves for various radio and radar uses was highly desired before the war, but existing microwave devices like the klystron were far too low powered to be useful. Alfred Lee Loomis, a millionaire and physicist who headed his own private laboratory, organized the Microwave Committee to consider these devices and look for improvements. In early 1940, Winston Churchill organized what became the Tizard Mission to introduce US researchers to several new technologies the UK had been developing. Among these was the cavity magnetron, a leap forward in the creation of microwaves that made them practical for the first time.
A klystron is a specialized linear-beam vacuum tube, invented in 1937 by American electrical engineers Russell and Sigurd Varian, which is used as an amplifier for high radio frequencies, from UHF up into the microwave range. Low-power klystrons are used as oscillators in terrestrial microwave relay communications links, while high-power klystrons are used as output tubes in UHF television transmitters, satellite communication, radar transmitters, and to generate the drive power for modern particle accelerators.
Alfred Lee Loomis was an American attorney, investment banker, philanthropist, scientist, physicist, inventor of the LORAN Long Range Navigation System, and a lifelong patron of scientific research. He established the Loomis Laboratory in Tuxedo Park, New York, and his role in the development of radar and the atomic bomb contributed to the Allied victory in World War II. He invented the Aberdeen Chronograph for measuring muzzle velocities, contributed significantly to the development of a ground-controlled approach technology for aircraft, and participated in preliminary meetings of the Manhattan Project.
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was a British politician, army officer, and writer. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, when he led Britain to victory in the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955. Churchill represented five constituencies during his career as a Member of Parliament (MP). Ideologically an economic liberal and imperialist, for the last of his career he was a member of the Conservative Party, which he led from 1940 to 1955, but from 1904 to 1924 was a member of the Liberal Party.
Loomis arranged for funding under the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) and reorganized the Microwave Committee at MIT to study the magnetron and radar technology in general. Lee A. DuBridge served as the Rad Lab director. The lab rapidly expanded, and within months was larger than the UK's efforts which had been running for several years by this point. By 1943 the lab began to deliver a stream of ever-improved devices, which could be produced in huge numbers by the US's industrial base. At its peak, the Rad Lab employed 4,000 at MIT and several other labs around the world, and designed half of all the radar systems used during the war.
The National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) was an organization created "to coordinate, supervise, and conduct scientific research on the problems underlying the development, production, and use of mechanisms and devices of warfare" in the United States from June 27, 1940, until June 28, 1941. Most of its work was done with the strictest secrecy, and it began research of what would become some of the most important technology during World War II, including radar and the atomic bomb. It was superseded by the Office of Scientific Research and Development in 1941, and reduced to merely an advisory organization until it was eventually terminated during 1947.
By the end of the war, the US held a leadership position in a number of microwave-related fields. Among their notable products were the SCR-584, the finest gun-laying radar of the war, and the SCR-720, an airborne interception radar that became the standard late-war system for both US and UK night fighters. They also developed the H2X, a version of the British H2S bombing radar that operated at shorter wavelengths in the X band. The Rad Lab also developed Loran-A, the first worldwide radio navigation system, which originally was known as "LRN" for Loomis Radio Navigation.
The SCR-584 was an automatic-tracking microwave radar developed by the MIT Radiation Laboratory during World War II. It was one of the most advanced ground-based radars of its era, and became one of the primary gun laying radars used worldwide well into the 1950s. A trailer-mounted mobile version was the SCR-784.
Gun laying is the process of aiming an artillery piece, such as a gun, howitzer, or mortar, on land or at sea, against surface or air targets. It may be laying for direct fire, where the gun is aimed similarly to a rifle, or indirect fire, where firing data is calculated and applied to the sights. The term includes automated aiming using, for example, radar-derived target data and computer-controlled guns.
A night fighter is a fighter aircraft adapted for use at night or in other times of bad visibility. Night fighters began to be used in World War I and included types that were specifically modified to operate at night.
During the mid- and late-1930s, radio systems for the detection and location of distant targets had been developed under great secrecy in the United States and Great Britain, as well as in several other nations, notably Germany, the USSR, and Japan. These usually operated at Very High Frequency (VHF) wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum and carried several cover names, such as Ranging and Direction Finding (RDF) in Great Britain. In 1941, the U. S. Navy coined the acronym 'RADAR' (RAdio Detection And Ranging) for such systems; this soon led to the name 'radar' and spread to other countries.
The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.
Great Britain is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of continental Europe. With an area of 209,331 km2 (80,823 sq mi), it is the largest of the British Isles, the largest European island, and the ninth-largest island in the world. In 2011, Great Britain had a population of about 61 million people, making it the world's third-most populous island after Java in Indonesia and Honshu in Japan. The island of Ireland is situated to the west of Great Britain, and together these islands, along with over 1,000 smaller surrounding islands, form the British Isles archipelago.
Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north and the Alps, Lake Constance and the High Rhine to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.
The potential advantages of operating such systems in the Ultra High Frequency (UHF or microwave) region were well known and vigorously pursued. One of these advantages was smaller antennas, a critical need for detection systems on aircraft. The primary technical barrier to developing UHF systems was the lack of a usable source for generating high-power microwaves. In February 1940, researchers John Randall and Harry Boot at Birmingham University in Great Britain built a resonant cavity magnetron to fill this need; it was quickly placed within the highest level of secrecy.
In radio engineering, an antenna is the interface between radio waves propagating through space and electric currents moving in metal conductors, used with a transmitter or receiver. In transmission, a radio transmitter supplies an electric current to the antenna's terminals, and the antenna radiates the energy from the current as electromagnetic waves. In reception, an antenna intercepts some of the power of a radio wave in order to produce an electric current at its terminals, that is applied to a receiver to be amplified. Antennas are essential components of all radio equipment.
Sir John Turton Randall, was an English physicist and biophysicist, credited with radical improvement of the cavity magnetron, an essential component of centimetric wavelength radar, which was one of the keys to the Allied victory in the Second World War. It is also the key component of microwave ovens.
Henry Albert Howard "Harry" Boot was an English physicist who with Sir John Randall and James Sayers developed the cavity magnetron, which was one of the keys to the Allied victory in the Second World War.
Shortly after this breakthrough, Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt agreed that the two nations would pool their technical secrets and jointly develop many urgently needed warfare technologies. At the initiation of this exchange in the late summer of 1940, the Tizard Mission brought to America one of the first of the new magnetrons. On October 6, Edward George Bowen, a key developer of RDF at the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) and a member of the mission, demonstrated the magnetron, producing some 15,000 watts (15 kW) of power at 3 GHz, i.e. a wavelength of 10cm.
American researchers and officials were amazed at the magnetron, and the NDRC immediately started plans for manufacturing and incorporating the devices. Alfred Lee Loomis, who headed the NDRC Microwave Committee, led in establishing the Radiation Laboratory at MIT as a joint Anglo-American effort for microwave research and system development using the new magnetron.
The name 'Radiation Laboratory', selected by Loomis when he selected the building for it on the MIT campus, was intentionally deceptive,albeit obliquely correct in that radar uses radiation in a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. It was chosen to imply the laboratory's mission was similar to that of the Ernest O. Lawrence's Radiation Laboratory at UC Berkeley; i.e., that it employed scientists to work on nuclear physics research. At the time, nuclear physics was regarded as relatively theoretical and inapplicable to military equipment, as this was before atomic bomb development had begun.
Ernest Lawrence was an active participant in forming the Rad Lab and personally recruited many key members of the initial staff. Most of the senior staff were Ph.D. physicists who came from university positions. They usually had no more than an academic knowledge of microwaves, and almost no background involving electronic hardware development. Their capability, however, to attack complex problems of almost any type was outstanding. Later in life, nine members of the staff were recipients of the Nobel Prize for other accomplishments.
In June 1941, the NDRC became part of the new Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), also administered by Vannevar Bush, who reported directly to President Roosevelt. The OSRD was given almost unlimited access to funding and resources, with the Rad Lab receiving a large share for radar research and development.
Starting in 1942, the Manhattan Project absorbed a number of the Rad Lab physicists into Los Alamos and Lawrence's facility at Berkeley. This was made simpler by Lawrence and Loomis being involved in all of these projects.
The Radiation Laboratory officially opened in November 1940, using 4,000 square feet (370 m2) of space in MIT's Building 4, and under $500,000 initial funding from the NDRC. In addition to the Director, Lee DuBridge, I. I. Rabi was the deputy director for scientific matters, and F. Wheeler Loomis (no relation to Alfred Loomis) was deputy director for administration. E. G. ("Taffy") Bowen was assigned as a representative of Great Britain.
Even before opening, the founders identified the first three projects for the Rad Lab. In the order of priority, these were (1) a 10-cm detection system (called Airborne Intercept or AI) for fighter aircraft, (2) a 10-cm gun-aiming system (called Gun Laying or GL) for anti-aircraft batteries, and (3) a long-range airborne radio navigation system.
To initiate the first two of these projects, the magnetron from Great Britain was used to build a 10-cm "breadboard" set; this was tested successfully from the rooftop of Building 4 in early January 1941. All members of the initial staff were involved in this endeavor.
Under Project 1 led by Edwin M. McMillan, an "engineered" set with an antenna using a 30-inch (76 cm) parabolic reflector followed. This, the first microwave radar built in America, was tested successfully in an aircraft on March 27, 1941. It was then taken to Great Britain by Taffy Bowen and tested in comparison with a 10-cm set being developed there.
For the final system, the Rad Lab staff combined features from their own and the British set. It eventually became the SCR-720, used extensively by both the U.S. Army Air Corps and the British Royal Air Force.
For Project 2, a 4-foot- and later 6-foot-wide (1.2 then 1.8 m) parabolic reflector on a pivoting mount was selected. Also, this set would use an electro-mechanical computer (called a Predictor-correlator) to keep the antenna aimed at an acquired target. Ivan A. Getting served as the project leader. Being much more complicated than the Airborne Intercept and required to be very rugged for field use, an engineered GL was not completed until December 1941. This eventually was fielded as the ubiquitous SCR-584, first gaining attention by directing the anti-aircraft fire that downed the about 85 percent of German V-1 flying bombs ("buzz bombs") attacking London.
Project 3, a long-range navigation system, was of particular interest to Great Britain. They had an existing hyperbolic navigation system, called GEE, but it was inadequate, in both range and accuracy, to support aircraft during bombing runs on distant targets in Europe. When briefed by the Tizard Mission about GEE, Alfred Loomis personally conceptualized a new type of system that would overcome the deficiencies of GEE, and the development of his LORAN (an acronym for Long Range Navigation) was adopted as an initial project. The LORAN Division was established for the project and headed by Donald G. Fink. Operating in the Low Frequency (LF) portion of the radio spectrum, LORAN was the only non-microwave project of the Rad Lab. Incorporating major elements of GEE, LORAN was highly successful and beneficial to the war effort. By the end of hostilities, about 30 percent of the Earth's surface was covered by LORAN stations and used by 75,000 aircraft and surface vessels.
Following the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor and the entry of the U.S. into World War II, work at the Rad Lab greatly expanded. At the height of its activities, the Rad Lab employed nearly 4,000 people working in several countries. The Rad Lab had constructed, and was the initial occupant of, MIT's famous Building 20. Costing just over $1 million, this was one of the longest-surviving World War II temporary structures.
Activities eventually encompassed physical electronics, electromagnetic properties of matter, microwave physics, and microwave communication principles, and the Rad Lab made fundamental advances in all of these fields. Half of the radars deployed by the U. S. military during World War II were designed at the Rad Lab, including over 100 different microwave systems costing $1.5 billion.All of these sets improved considerably on pre-microwave, VHF systems from the Naval Research Laboratory and the Army's Signal Corps Laboratories, as well as British radars such as Robert Watson-Watt's Chain Home and Taffy Bowen's early airborne RDF sets.
Although the Rad Lab was initiated as a joint Anglo-American operation and many of its products were adopted by the British military, researchers in Great Britain* continued with the development of microwave radar and, particularly with cooperation from Canada, produced many types of new systems. For the exchange of information, the Rad Lab established a branch operation in England, and a number of British scientists and engineers worked on assignments at the Rad Lab. *At the T. R. E., Telecommunications Research Establishment
The resonant-cavity magnetron continued to evolve at the Rad Lab. A team led by I.I. Rabi first extended the operation of the magnetron from 10-cm (called S-band), to 6-cm (C-band), then to 3-cm (X-band), and eventually to 1-cm (K-band). To keep pace, all of the other radar sub-systems also were evolving continuously. The Transmitter Division, under Albert G. Hill, eventually involved a staff of 800 persons in these efforts.
A radically different type of antenna for X-band systems was invented by Luis W. Alvarez and used in three new systems: an airborne mapping radar called Eagle, a blind-landing Ground Control Approach (GCA) system, and a ground-based Microwave Early-Warning (MEW) system. The latter two were highly successful and carried over into post-war applications. Eagle eventually was converted to a very effective mapping radar called H2X or Mickey and used by the U. S. Air Corps and Navy as well as the British RAF.
The most ambitious Rad Lab effort with long-term significance was Project Cadillac. Led by Jerome B. Wiesner, the project involved a high-power radar carried in a pod under a TBM Avenger aircraft and a Combat Information Center aboard an aircraft carrier. The objective was an airborne early warning and control system, providing the U. S. Navy with a surveillance capability to detect low-flying enemy aircraft at a range in excess of 100 miles (161 km). The project was initiated at a low level in mid-1942, but with the later advent of Japanese Kamikaze threats in the Pacific Theater of Operations, the work was greatly accelerated, eventually involving 20 percent of the Rad Lab staff. A prototype was flown in August 1944, and the system became operational early the next year. Although too late to affect the final war effort, the project laid the foundation for significant developments in the following years.
As the Rad Lab started, a laboratory was set up to develop electronic countermeasures (ECM), technologies to block enemy radars and communications. With Frederick E. Terman as director, this soon moved to the Harvard University campus (just a mile from MIT) and became the Radio Research Laboratory (RRL). Organizationally separate from the Rad Lab, but also under the OSRD, the two operations had much in common throughout their existences.
When the Radiation Laboratory closed, the OSRD agreed to continue funding for the Basic Research Division, which officially became part of MIT on July 1, 1946, as the Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT (RLE). Other wartime research was taken up by the MIT Laboratory for Nuclear Science, which was founded at the same time. Both laboratories principally occupied Building 20 until 1957.
Most of the important research results of the Rad Lab were documented in a 28-volume compilation entitled the MIT Radiation Laboratory Series, edited by Louis N. Ridenour and published by McGraw-Hill between 1947 and 1953. This is no longer in print, but the series was re-released as a two-CD-ROM set in 1999 ( ISBN 1-58053-078-8) by publisher Artech House. More recently, it has become available online.
Postwar declassification of the work at the MIT Rad Lab made available, via the Series, a quite-large body of knowledge about advanced electronics. A reference (identity long forgotten) credited the Series with the development of the post-World War II electronics industry.
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, secret, and outstandingly successful technological efforts spawned by the Anglo-American relations in World War II. The Radiation Laboratory was named an IEEE Milestone in 1990.
The cavity magnetron is a high-powered vacuum tube that generates microwaves using the interaction of a stream of electrons with a magnetic field while moving past a series of open metal cavities. Electrons pass by the openings to these cavities and cause radio waves to oscillate within, similar to the way a whistle produces a tone when excited by an air stream blown past its opening. The frequency of the microwaves produced, the resonant frequency, is determined by the cavities' physical dimensions. Unlike other vacuum tubes such as a klystron or a traveling-wave tube (TWT), the magnetron cannot function as an amplifier in order to increase the intensity of an applied microwave signal; the magnetron serves solely as an oscillator, generating a microwave signal from direct current electricity supplied to the vacuum tube.
Vannevar Bush was an American engineer, inventor and science administrator, who during World War II headed the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), through which almost all wartime military R&D was carried out, including important developments in radar and the initiation and early administration of the Manhattan Project. He emphasized the importance of scientific research to national security and economic well-being, and was chiefly responsible for the movement that led to the creation of the National Science Foundation.
H2S was the first airborne, ground scanning radar system. It was developed for the Royal Air Force's Bomber Command during World War II to identify targets on the ground for night and all-weather bombing. This allowed attacks outside the range of the various radio navigation aids like Gee or Oboe, which were limited to about 350 kilometres (220 mi). It was also widely used as a general navigation system, allowing landmarks to be identified at long range.
The Naxos radar warning receiver was a World War II German countermeasure to S band microwave radar produced by a cavity magnetron. Introduced in September 1943, it replaced Metox, which was incapable of detecting centimetric radar. Two versions were widely used, the FuG 350 Naxos Z that allowed night fighters to home in on H2S radars carried by RAF Bomber Command aircraft, and the FuMB 7 Naxos U for U-boats, offering early warning of the approach of RAF Coastal Command patrol aircraft equipped with ASV Mark III radar. A later model, Naxos ZR, provided warning of the approach of RAF night fighters equipped with AI Mk. VIII radar.
The history of radar started with experiments by Heinrich Hertz in the late 19th century that showed that radio waves were reflected by metallic objects. This possibility was suggested in James Clerk Maxwell's seminal work on electromagnetism. However, it was not until the early 20th century that systems able to use these principles were becoming widely available, and it was German inventor Christian Hülsmeyer who first used them to build a simple ship detection device intended to help avoid collisions in fog. Numerous similar systems, which provided directional information to objects over short ranges, were developed over the next two decades.
The Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) was the main United Kingdom research and development organization for radio navigation, radar, infra-red detection for heat seeking missiles, and related work for the Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II and the years that followed. The name was changed to Radar Research Establishment in 1953, and again to the Royal Radar Establishment in 1957. This article covers the precursor organizations and the Telecommunications Research Establishment up to the time of the name change. The later work at the site is described in the separate article about RRE.
The Tizard Mission, officially the British Technical and Scientific Mission, was a British delegation that visited the United States during the Second World War in order to obtain the industrial resources to exploit the military potential of the research and development (R&D) work completed by the UK up to the beginning of World War II, but that Britain itself could not exploit due to the immediate requirements of war-related production. It received its popular name from the program's instigator, Henry Tizard. Tizard was a British scientist and chairman of the Aeronautical Research Committee, which had propelled the development of radar.
Edward George "Taffy" Bowen, CBE, FRS was a Welsh physicist who made a major contribution to the development of radar, and so helped win both the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Atlantic. He was also an early radio astronomer, playing a key role in the establishment of radioastronomy in Australia and the United States.
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 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.
The Radio Research Laboratory (RRL), located on the campus of Harvard University, was an 800-person secret research laboratory during World War II. Under the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), it was a spinoff of the Radiation Laboratory at MIT, and set up to develop electronic countermeasures to enemy radars and communications, as well as electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM) to circumvent enemy ECM. The RRL was directed by Frederick E. Terman and operated between 1941 and 1945.
Signal Corps Laboratories (SCL) was formed on June 30, 1930, as part of the U.S. Army Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Through the years, the SCL had a number of changes in name, but remained the operation providing research and development services for the Signal Corps.
Albert Percival Rowe, CBE, often known as Jimmy Rowe or A. P. Rowe, was a radar pioneer and university vice-chancellor. A British physicist and senior research administrator, he played a major role in the development of radar before and during World War II.
John William Marchetti was a radar pioneer who had an outstanding career combining government and industrial activities. He was born of immigrant parents in Boston, Massachusetts, and entered Columbia College and Columbia School of Engineering and Applied Science in 1925. In a six-year program combining liberal arts and engineering, he earned both A.B. and B.S. degrees, followed by the graduate E.E. degree in 1931. He was employed by New York Edison as a power engineer for several years, during which time he also participated in the U.S. Naval Reserve as an Ensign.
Radar in World War II greatly influenced many important aspects of the conflict. This revolutionary new technology of radio-based detection and tracking was used by both the Allies and Axis powers in World War II, which had evolved independently in a number of nations during the mid 1930s. At the outbreak of war in September 1939, both Great Britain and Germany had functioning radar systems. In Great Britain, it was called RDF, Range and Direction Finding, while in Germany the name Funkmeß (radio-measuring) was used – whereas given apparatuses were called Funkmessgerät . By the time of the Battle of Britain in mid-1940, the Royal Air Force (RAF) had fully integrated RDF as part of the national air defence.
John George Trump was an American electrical engineer, inventor, and physicist. A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1936 to 1973, he was a recipient of U.S. President Ronald Reagan's National Medal of Science and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. John Trump was noted for developing rotational radiation therapy. Together with Robert J. Van de Graaff, he developed one of the first million-volt X-ray generators. He was the paternal uncle of Donald Trump, who would later go on to become the 45th president of the United States.