Sandwiched between the Blue Plains Sewage Treatment Plant and Bolling Air Force Base in far Southwest Washington, alongside the Potomac River, is a 129-acre complex that has spawned such marvels as radar, sonar and Teflon.
Yesterday, the Naval Research Lab garnered science's ultimate reward: Jerome Karle, 67, a senior scientist from Falls Church, won the Nobel Prize for chemistry.
Karle works down the hall from his wife, Isabella, 63, also a physical chemist, who often has been mentioned as a Nobel candidate.
Karle's prize was awarded jointly with his former lab colleague, Herbert A. Hauptman, now of Buffalo, and was based on work the two men first published in 1950. The development of the computer popularized their work by allowing their mathematical system for determining molecular structures to be duplicated by other researchers.
Although the Naval Research Lab has passed many milestones since it was founded in 1923 on the suggestion of America's foremost inventor, Thomas Edison, until yesterday the Nobel Prize had not been among them.
The years after World War II were boom years for the lab, with its chemists, mathematicians, engineers and space scientists turning out record numbers of important patents. Last year, the lab registered its 3,000th patent.
From synthetic lubricants for aircraft engines to cardiac instruments and the control of oil spills at sea, the laboratories have issued a range of firsts in transportation, communications, medicine and warfare. Today, the 1,700 scientists among its 3,000 employes, nearly all civilians, work on electronic warfare, chemical lasers, undersea technology and other endeavors useful to the military.
Lloyd Carter, a spokesman for the lab, said basic research, such as that performed by the Karles, occupies 60 percent of the labs' scientists. The Karles work in one of two "laboratories within a laboratory" at the security-conscious complex.
Like most the 150 white buildings throughout the campus, Building 30, which houses Karle's Lab for the Structure of Matter, is a plain, concrete block structure filled with government-issue furniture.
"Almost all of my husband's work is quite theoretical," said Isabella Karle.
The Karles joined the lab in 1946 and have worked side-by-side ever since. She has given practical application to his theories, and has won several prestigious prizes individually and jointly with her husband. They are the lab's only two members of the National Academy of Sciences.
They have three daughters, Louise, a theoretical chemist at Brookhaven Labs in Long Island, N.Y.; Jean, a chemist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center; and Madeline, a museum specialist trained in geology who works at the Smithsonian Institution.
The Karles are at home intellectually at the Navy Lab, where about 800 employes hold doctoral degrees. "We are so pleased that the level of work that's been here has been recognized," said Alfred H. Lowrey, a scientist and colleague of the Karles for 20 years.
Much of the work done here is classified. Visitors are carefully questioned and must carry badges, identification and permit slips signed by authorities.
The lab had a budget last year of $378 million, all but $53 million supplied by the Navy.
Until the news from Stockholm, the biggest news on the lab campus was the selection of lab researcher John-David Bartoe as a Spacelab 2 astronaut.
"The lab, said Isabella Karle, "has been very very good in supporting our basic research for so many years. We've been here so long, of course we'll be staying to work some more."