Tales of Discovery: Seven Decades of Technology and Innovation
The Office of Naval Research (ONR), through its commands—including ONR Global and the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.—has been leading the discovery, development, and delivery of technology innovations for the Navy and Marine Corps.
It was in August 1946, just after the Second World War, that Congress mandated a new military command to identify and cultivate forward-looking science and technology capabilities, to ensure the superiority of U.S. warfighters. ONR’s establishment marked the first time a peacetime organization would use government funds to support civilian science and technology research at universities, laboratories and businesses.
Since that fateful year, the command, along with its Naval Research Enterprise partners, has played a leading role in many of the most important discoveries and inventions—from the earliest computer systems and software, to the exploration of the ocean’s depths, to new materials and sensors that have been integrated into everything from household items to warships.
A selection of some of ONR’s most notable innovations is presented here.
Atomic Physics and the World’s Most Accurate Timekeeping
Atomic physics at the quantum level has led to the creation of our most accurate clocks—which in turn have made possible everything from satellite navigation to the internet.
Bathyscaphe Trieste Makes the Deepest Dive
On 23 January 1960, Navy Lt. Don Walsh and Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard descended to the deepest spot in the world ocean—the Challenger Deep.
Extremely lightweight but very strong, cellular materials can be used to manufacture a wide range of products that demand both qualities.
Conducting and Semiconducting Polymers
Plastics are usually used as insulators, but some actually can conduct electricity, opening up a new field of manufacturing.
Conning Officer Virtual Environment - Intelligent Tutoring System
Training naval officers for shipboard duties has advanced significantly with the use of virtual technologies.
The millennium-long reign of gunpowder and other chemical propellants is over—projectiles can now be launched using the power of electricity.
Explosion Resistant Coating
A new variety of spray-on coatings is helping to make everything from ships to vehicles more resistant to the blast effects of high explosives.
Floating Instrument Platform—FLIP
One of the most unusual sea-going vessels ever constructed has been helping several generations of researchers uncover the ocean’s secrets for more than five decades.
Gallium nitride is probably the most important compound you’ve never heard of. A central component of modern consumer electronics, it also helps power military hardware.
Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Network System
New lightweight, solar-powered systems are bringing energy to Marines in the field.
Ground Vehicle Mobility, Survivability, and Autonomy
Research into technologies that go in and on ground vehicles has been helping Marines and other warfighters to get the most advanced mobility available.
Hearing Loss Research
With today’s battlefield louder than ever, from the ubiquity of small-arms fire to the roar of jet engine noise, protecting against hearing loss is essential.
High-Altitude Balloons Take First Steps toward Space
Experiments with balloons in the 1940s and 1950s took human beings higher than ever, bringing with them space-observing scientific instruments.
The idea that inorganic compounds, rather than light, could sustain life was a 90-year-old theory until researchers discovered unique life at the bottom of the ocean.
Sprouting from the tops of warships like cactus needles, antennas and arrays are now so numerous that they interfere with each other.
Marine Mammal Research
The U.S. Navy is a global leader in marine mammal research, helping to better understand the relationship between humans and these complex creatures.
Multistatic Acoustic Submarine Detection
Air-dropped sonobuoys are one of the most powerful tools for hunting for submarines; ONR has been working on improving this long-serving technology.
Oceanographic Research Vessels
Some of the most ground-breaking research on the world’s oceans over the past seven decades have taken place on the U.S. Navy’s research vessels.
One of the earliest digital computer projects started out as an attempt to build a better flight trainer in 1944—but ended up as the heart of the first strategic defense network.
REMUS and Mine Countermeasures
The REMUS unmanned underwater vehicle has proved its usefulness with the U.S. Navy and other navies around the world.
The first detailed map of the ocean’s bottom in 1957 helped revolutionize our understanding of the geology of the seafloor.
SEALAB Manned Undersea Habitat
As NASA launched its effort to reach the moon, ONR spearheaded attempts to show that humans could live and work at the bottom of the ocean.
Social Networks in a New Information Environment
In an increasingly interconnected world, fighting terrorists means understanding their social networks.
The Synchronization of Chaotic Systems
A system that is highly determined by its initial conditions, but whose outcome is unpredictable, is the idea behind chaos theory.
Thermal Barrier Coatings
Modern engines are starting to reach the limits of performance that metallurgy alone can provide, but new coatings are helping to increase heat tolerance.
Tropical Cyclone Prediction
Superior storm prediction is a long-term process of combining different models, expanding data inputs, and improving resolution.
Unmanned Surface Vehicles
Twenty-first-century advances are making it possible to use ever larger surface naval vessels to perform missions at sea with minimal human intervention.
Van Allen Radiation Belts
Discovered in the late 1950s, knowledge of these belts of charged particles surrounding the Earth helped in the design of safe manned craft and satellites.
Wearable Tactical Energy
Next-generation solar cells and batteries are helping to get Marines and other ground troops the renewable power they need in the field.
The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle-Navy
Unmanned aircraft now are on the verge of joining the carrier air wings of the future.