Materials Accomplishments Highlight NRL's 75 Year Celebration


6/15/1998 - 23-98r
Contact: Public Affairs Office, (202) 767-2541


Materials research at the Naval Research Laboratory traces its roots back to the earliest evolution of the Laboratory itself. The Materials Science and Technology (MS&T) Division began in 1927 as the Division of Physical Metallurgy, just four years after NRL opened its doors. And in 1931, the Mechanics and Electricity Division was founded. The MS&T Division today has evolved from those two divisions, founded decades ago.

Today, NRL's materials research is multidisciplinary and ranges from the study of fundamental behavior to exploratory and advanced development of matter. The primary focus of the research is on enhancing materials and systems performance, affordability, survivability, and service-life extension to provide an enabling array of capabilities to naval and other DoD assets. Some of the areas of materials research where NRL has made significant advancements through the years include:

Nondestructive Testing - NRL's development of gamma ray radiography was an important contribution to the nondestructive testing of metal castings and welds. The method was developed in the 1920s using gamma-ray radiation as a shadow-graphic technique to detect flaws in cast or welded steels. This work contributed to American sea power by improving the production of the highest quality steel for armor, ship frames, and fittings.

Fracture Mechanics - NRL's work in fracture mechanics began in the early 1950s. It permitted, for the first time, the capability to calculate the strength of structures containing defects or flaws that inevitable occur in fabrication or during service operation. Today, fracture mechanics has become a science that has been applied throughout the world in the design of any structures where sudden, catastrophic failure would cause loss of life or other serious consequences. NRL has solved military and commercial fracture problems in structures, such as commercial aircraft fuselage, Polaris missiles, nuclear power reactors, and aircraft carrier propellers.

Structure of Matter - NRL has developed techniques to apply X-ray diffraction to the accurate determination of atomic arrangement in substances in various physical states. This knowledge has been the first step to understanding the relationship between structure and a substance's physical, chemical, and biological properties. The seminal contributions of this work have been touted in the 1985 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and in the 1993 Franklin Institute Award and Prize for Achievement in Science.

Solid-State Dosimetry - NRL pioneered the field of solid-state dosimetry in the late 1940s and continued a leadership role in the evolution of the science and applications of ionizing radiation measurement over the next two decades. In 1960, NRL's research produced the first successful thermoluminescent dosimetry system, which displaced the photographic film badge as the standard for radiation workers all over the world.

Materials Safety and Durability - In the early 1960s, NRL demonstrated the potentially severe embrittlement of nuclear reactor steels to be a function of neutron exposure and irradiation temperatures. This work is believed by most nuclear safety authorities to be the primary basis for assurance against catastrophic failure of radiation containment. In 1967, NRL developed the first laboratory quantities of a steel that was insensitive to neutron radiation embrittlement and later developed criteria for the U.S. steel industry's use in manufacturing the steel on a commercial scale.

Sonar Dome Rubber Windows (SDRWs) are the steel-wire-reinforced neoprene structures that separate the sea from the sonar array on the bows of several classes of ships. In 1981, the Navy became concerned because the 10-ton domes has been failing because of unknown causes. By 1983, NRL found the cause of the SDRW failures to be corrosion fatigue of the steel wire cord reinforcement material. By solving the problem, the U.S. Navy's cost savings is in the millions of dollars.

Corrosion Research - NRL has made important advancements in the general area of corrosion research related to aircraft structures, boilers, and hulls. For example, between 1950 and 1960, NRL developed the cathodic protection system for ships, allowing the U.S.'s large "mothball" fleet to rest in floating storage for years without danger of hull destruction through electrolytic corrosion.

Superconductivity Research - NRL has been involved in superconductivity research since 1948, when scientists began investigating the electromagnetic response of superconducting materials. In 1987, NRL was tasked to chair the Naval Consortium for Superconductivity, which was instructed to develop a program to focus the Navy's investment in the most important areas. The Navy has many potential uses for superconductivity, including motors for ship propulsion, magnetometers for underwater ocean surveillance, and detectors of electromagnetic radiation. One area of potential application for superconductors that is under investigation by NRL is space systems, specifically the development of high-temperature superconducting components and devices operating int he reduced-temperature environment of space satellites.

Ion Implantation Technique - In 1977, NRL researchers devised a surface modification technique for developing new materials with unique and extraordinary properties by forcibly implanting ions (electrified atoms) into ordinary materials. Ion implantation offers broad new areas of applications including corrosion-resistant ball bearings, wear-resistant sliding bearings, and radiation-resistant semiconductor devices. In 1986, ion implantation of gas turbine aircraft bearings was demonstrated on an industrial scale as a result of the successful completion of a Manufacturing Technology program by NRL and Spire Corporation. More recently, in 1991, NRL assisted a defense contractor by using ion implantation to improve the performance of an experimental vibrating beam accelerometer (a guidance instrument). It will result in an increase in guidance reliability and accuracy, as well as a reduction in the weight of guidance systems.

Permanent Magnet Materials - In 1980, NRL researchers were the first to examine the magnetic properties of rare earth-iron-boron alloys, which showed promise for permanent magnet use. These new magnet materials promise to be useful by both the military and commercial sectors for improved microwave tubes; sensors; powerful, lightweight, electric motors and generators; computer peripherals; and faster, more compact actuators.



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About the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory is the Navy's full-spectrum corporate laboratory, conducting a broadly based multidisciplinary program of scientific research and advanced technological development. The Laboratory, with a total complement of nearly 2,800 personnel, is located in southwest Washington, D.C., with other major sites at the Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Monterey, Calif. NRL has served the Navy and the nation for over 90 years and continues to meet the complex technological challenges of today's world. For more information, visit the NRL homepage or join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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