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NEWS | Jan. 8, 2024

NRL Leaders Receive Presidential Rank Awards for High-Impact Achievements

By Nicholas E. M. Pasquini, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Corporate Communications

U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) Director of Research Dr. Bruce G. Danly, Senior Executive Service (SES), and Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering Senior Scientist (ST) for Biosurveillance Dr. David A. Stenger receive Presidential Rank Awards.
Established in 1978, the Presidential Rank Awards represent the top awards that civilian federal employees can receive. They’re given by the president of the United States to members of the federal Senior Executive Service (SES) who have overseen successful initiatives with a sweeping impact.

The awards also celebrate senior-career employees with sustained records of exceptional professional, technical or scientific achievement recognized on a national or international level. Winners of the awards are considered strong, high-performing leaders who personify excellence in public service.

Danly received the Department of the Navy (DoN) fiscal year 2023 Distinguished Executive Rank Award for his sustained accomplishments in leading the DoN’s corporate laboratory in all aspects of research and development in order to conceive and implement innovations supporting the naval mission both present and future.

“Upon Dr. Danly’s appointment to the position, there was little understanding by the Navy resource sponsors of how funding decisions were made, and how well aligned the research projects were to the Naval strategic priorities,” said Office of Naval Research (ONR) Executive Director Ms. E. Anne Sandel. “Recognizing the importance of coordinating NRL investments with other science and engineering investments by the ONR, Dr. Danly embarked on efforts to achieve better communication and understanding of these Science and Technology investments across a wide range of projects.”

In 2018, Danly served in an additional role as Director of Research at ONR and as Chairman of the ONR Research Council. “This council brought together all NRL and ONR executive leadership across all scientific and engineering disciplines, in order to align programs, eliminate duplication, and foster synergies,” Sandel said.
Recognizing the additional importance of coordination on research areas across other parts of the government, Danly actively participates in the annual U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Research & Development Center review of USCG programs to better coordinate with NRL programs.

As the U.S. Navy representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Science and Technology Board, Danly also encourages and facilitates closer NRL collaborations with NATO allies.
The NRL workforce conducts a wide variety of research and development in scientific and engineering technical areas impacting naval operations from the sea floor, through the ocean and atmosphere, to space.
The laboratory’s scientific and engineering disciplines, include, but are not limited to: acoustics, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems and robotics systems, chemistry, communications and networking, electronics, electronic warfare, lasers and optical science, marine meteorology, materials science, oceanography, quantum sensing, radar, and space science.

NRL has continued its prolific output of patents on new technologies, with an average of 207 patent filings per year from fiscal year 2017 - fiscal year 2022. A TechLink Study of economic impact during the period 2000-2021 from Department of Navy laboratory and warfare centers credits NRL with having generated $2.337 billion of total economic impact; representing 39% of the entire DoN impact in this period.
For the past six years, Danly has led the laboratory in the delivery of numerous key technologies now in use by the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marines Corps (USMC), and the greater Department of Defense (DOD). NRL technologies transitioned since 2016, include: 1) electronic attack equipment for defense of surface ships and carriers against adversary missiles; 2) advanced satellite payloads for reconnaissance; and 3) laser communication terminals for the USMC.
In addition, NRL-developed paint formulations that dramatically reduce corrosion on ships have been tested on USS Mahan (DDG-72), an Arleigh Burke-Class Destroyer, demonstrating that these paint systems contributed to a 34 times reduction in Sailor workload and a $10 million cost-avoidance per ship over a ten-year period when installed in combination amongst a suite of advanced topside corrosion control technologies.
Stenger received the Department of the Navy fiscal year 2023 Meritorious Senior Professional Award for identifying an opportunity to provide a novel biothreat detection solution to the DOD through repurposing of the 2020 Nobel Prize winning technology referred to as Clustered Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated protein (Cas).

NRL’s adaption of fundamental CRISPR/Cas technology enables: 1) very simple genetic tests that can be conducted outside of a laboratory setting; and 2) enrichment of pathogen genes of interest for genetic sequencing. Sequencing allows for mapping of the entire genetic blueprint of a pathogen within 90 minutes.

“This capability feeds directly into the detection of weapons of mass destruction and programs that will perform rapid biological sequencing in field environments,” said Materials Science and Component Technology Division Associate Director of Research Dr. Peter Matic. “Improvising on the theme of ‘search terms’ in conjunction with the use of machine learning, he has developed a capability allowing for immediate response to new pathogen threats, a capability unprecedented in the field of biodetection.”

This high-throughput, automated approach will allow for in-theater deployment of simple, rapid tests offering the sensitivity and specificity of gold-standard techniques. The approach eliminates the need for months of pre-development of reagent and test materials relevant to new threats. A further benefit to this research line is in the capacity to rescue long sections of genomic information, allowing for complete sequencing and gold-standard confirmation.

During his 32 years of service at NRL, Stenger has acquired institutional and operational knowledge that is continuously conveyed to the more than 50 federal scientists under his direct mentorship, knowledge that is used in support of the Center for Bio/Molecular Science and Engineering’s research portfolio.

“Stenger is an exceptional scientist with a gift for distilling the needs of stakeholders, including service customers, Combatant Commands, and intelligence organizations, into actionable research endeavors to ensure alignment of Science and Technology programs and investments with warfighter prioritized needs,” Matic said. “As one of only two Navy STs in Biotechnology one of 14 DOD Critical Technology Areas, Stenger is responsible for coordinating with U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force scientists to ensure efficiency and non-redundancy of DOD Biotechnology investments. His focus directly supports research programs while empowering other scientists and engineers to lead adaptable and valuable efforts addressing the needs of the DoN and DOD.”

About the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

NRL is a scientific and engineering command dedicated to research that drives innovative advances for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps from the seafloor to space and in the information domain. NRL is located in Washington, D.C. with major field sites in Stennis Space Center, Mississippi; Key West, Florida; Monterey, California, and employs approximately 3,000 civilian scientists, engineers and support personnel.
For more information, contact NRL Corporate Communications at (202) 480-3746 or

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