During the years since the war, the areas of study at the Laboratory have included basic research concerning the Navy's environments of Earth, sea, sky, and space. Investigations have ranged widely from monitoring the Sun's behavior, to analyzing marine atmospheric conditions, to measuring parameters of the deep oceans. Detection and communication capabilities have benefited by research that has exploited new portions of the electromagnetic spectrum,extended ranges to outer space, and provided means of transferring information reliably and securely, even through massive jamming. Submarine habitability, lubricants, shipbuilding materials, fire fighting, and the study of sound in the sea, have also been steadfast concerns.

The Laboratory has pioneered naval research into space, from atmospheric probes with captured V-2 rockets, through direction of the Vanguard project - America's first satellite program - to involvement in such projects as the Navy's Global Positioning System. As part of the SDI program, the Low-Power Atmospheric Compensation Experiment (LACE) satellite was designed and built by NRL. Today, NRL is the Navy's lead laboratory in space systems research, fire research, tactical electronic warfare, microelectronic devices, and artificial intelligence. NRL has also evaluated new issues, such as the effects of intense radiation and various forms of shock and vibration on aircraft, ships, and satellites. And in 1985, Dr. Jerome Karle, head of NRL's Laboratory for the Structure of Matter was chosen Nobel Laureate in the field of chemistry.

The consolidation of NRL and the Naval Oceanographic and Atmospheric Research Laboratory (NOARL), with centers at Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and Monterey, California, added new strengths to the Laboratory. NRL now serves as the lead Navy laboratory for research in ocean and atmospheric sciences with special strengths in physical oceanography, marine geosciences, ocean acoustics, marine meteorology, and remote oceanic and atmospheric sensing. The expanded Laboratory is focusing its research efforts on new Navy strategic interests and needs in the post-Cold War world. Although not abandoning its interests in blue water operations and research, the Navy is also focusing on defending American interests in the world's littoral regions. NRL scientists and engineers are working to give the Navy the special knowledge and capabilities it needs to operate in these waters.