UNLV Spotlight on Research: Meet CAREER Award Recipient Dr. Joshua Island

Dr. Joshua Island in his UNLV lab
Aug. 27, 2021


Being awarded an NSF grant is an impressive accomplishment for any UNLV faculty member. Once the first approval letter arrives it is validation that the work being done is important and relevant in one’s field of study. 

Dr. Joshua Island, an assistant professor in physics, was awarded his first NSF grant in 2021. His award is one of four CAREER Awards in the College of Sciences in recent years, which is quite an accomplishment, and personally, it marks an achievement in his work. 

“Actually, this is huge for me,” says Island. “The first feeling I had after learning about the award was relief. Getting the first grant is the hardest, and more importantly, is having your peers recognize the importance of what you’re doing. It’s a great feeling.”

Island leads the Nanoscale Physics Group in the UNLV Physics Department which focuses on studying low dimensional materials in electronic devices.

“We use a combination of low temperature and high frequency probes to study these devices and discern exotic phenomena that arise as a result of confinement and interactions,” says Island. 

His research for the grant is a new measurement technology that he says will open the door to new information in nanoscale physics. Island will use funds from a 5-year, $513,000 grant to fund graduate and undergraduate researchers and pay for research materials. In addition, Island has an already established lab, appropriately called the “Island Lab,” where he works primarily with undergraduate students with a focus on anything nano, including graphene, a single layer of graphite, exfoliated with adhesive tape. 

“If you take scotch tape, you can exfoliate and isolate a single layer of carbon atoms with a thickness of just fractions of a nanometer. We work with similar layered materials, isolate them, combine them, and cool them down to temperatures colder than outer space to study their electronic properties.”

Island completed his undergraduate degree in Physics and Mathematics at the University of New Mexico in 2008. His master’s degree in Physics is from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, and he earned his Ph.D. in Physics at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Interestingly enough, Island also has an undergraduate degree in computer science, but says once he finished he realized he didn’t want to be in front of a computer for the rest of his life. So, he thought he would try something a bit more challenging for him.

“The only college class I didn’t do well in was physics,” said Island. “I definitely challenged myself when I went back for physics and math degrees.”

He was, however, always interested in being an educator. He says a postdoc position at UCSB after graduate school ignited in him an interest in research and that’s when he decided to pursue a career in higher education. He started at UNLV in 2019.

Island spent nearly six months writing his grant application and getting the opinions of accomplished UNLV faculty members who he says he was honored to work with before it was submitted. Now that he has his first NSF grant he is hopeful for more in the future. 

“Getting this grant was a big confidence boost. I think the next one will be easier to get now that we have established that this platform exists and is viable. This research opens the door to future opportunities in nanoscale physics, revealing properties and characteristics of these interesting materials not well understood thus far.”