NRL has produced two Nobel Laureates, J. Karle and H. Hauptman, who each received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1985 for devising direct methods employing X-ray diffraction analysis in the determination of crystal structures.
X-ray diffraction analysis involves the determination of the arrangement of atoms in crystals from which the molecular formula is derived directly. Determination of the molecular structure is important because once the structural arrangement is understood, the substance itself can then be synthesized to produce useful products. This research occupies an almost unique position in science because the information it provides is used continuously in other fields. In fact, many phenomena in the physical, chemical, metallurgical, geological and biological sciences are interpretable in terms of the arrangements of atoms.
Methodologies for determining molecular structures are major contributions to science and technology. For example, they form the basis for the computer packages used in pharmaceutical labs and research institutions worldwide for the analysis of more than 10,000 new substances each year. A significant portion of structural research has direct application to public health, including the identification and characterization of potent toxins found in animals and plants, antitoxins, heart drugs, antibiotics, antiaddictive substances, anticarcinogens, and antimalarials.