For 46 years, Larry J. Argiro has been figuring out how to make U.S. ships and submarines run more quietly. And you could say he's enjoyed a certain amount of success.
The USS Nautilus, the country's first nuclear submarine, was detected by British sonar experts in England shortly after it was launched in Connecticut in 1954. By contrast, the SSN-21 submarine, or Seawolf, due out in a few years, will be so quiet "you have to be almost on it" to hear it, Mr. Argiro says.
"We've gone from detectability from thousands of miles to thousands of yards."
For his efforts, the Severna Park resident received the Harold E. Saunders Award, the American Society of Naval Engineering's highest honor for dedication and accomplishment this month.
That honor is the latest in a string of engineering prizes that Mr. Argiro has won as head of the Machinery Research and Development Directorate classified laboratories at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Annapolis. His honors also include the Office of Naval Research's Capt. Robert Dexter Gold Medal Award for Scientific Achievements, the American Society of Naval Engineers Gold Medal Award and three top honors for Navy civilians.
But he shrugs off the credit.
"I think I have put together here probably the most productive, motivated team that could possibly exist," he says. "It's been a very challenging career, and the only thing I can say when I go home is, 'Where has the time gone?' "
His career has gone from West Virginia University, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering before moving into acoustics, to the Army during World War II, to a civilian job at the research center in Annapolis in the late 1940s.
"The Navy was beginning to realize it had to improve its acoustic capability," he recalls. "Subs were the new field."
And the "newness" continues, he says, through the Advanced Ship Machinery Program, which works to provide cost-effective machinery for the future Navy.
"This is exciting. We're not doing production work," he says. "We're really challenging new fields."
Mary A. Zoccola, a research center spokeswoman, says that "the steady progress that Mr. Argiro made in machinery silencing has assured a continuous strategic military advantage for the Navy."
The silencing technology developed under Mr. Argiro's direction has been used in the Trident submarine and the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, making those vessels among the quietest in the fleet.
But his efforts also have affected domestic industry, Mr. Argiro says.
"Since we're at the cutting edge of a new type of machine, we can turn this information over to U.S. industry," he says.
Take, for example, the Argiro team's work to redesign and isolate a submarine's machinery from its hull, which could lead to quieter commercial air conditioners
It was "a very difficult job because in many cases machines, even today, are noisy," he says.
And an air-conditioning system is very noisy because of its compressor, he says.
"You can [produce the same effect] with thermoelectric and cut out the moving part."
Such discoveries "make us more competitive in the worldwide market," Mr. Argiro says.