LAS professor receives Young Investigator Research Program grant

Assistant Professor Justin Cole

Justin Cole, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematics, is one of two UCCS faculty to be awarded the Young Investigator Research Program (YIP) grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), which is the research department of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). Philip Brown, Assistant Professor in Computer Science, was also selected as an awardee.

Cole is one of just 58 engineers and scientists from 44 research organizations and businesses in the U.S. to receive this prestigious grant. Recipients are awarded three-year grants up to $450,000, must have a Ph.D. or equivalent degrees within the past seven years and show remarkable skill and potential for conducting relevant research to the Department of the Air Force.

“Receiving this grant is an indication that the work we are doing has significance and can lead to important advances in the field of electromagnetic waves,” Cole said. “This grant will allow my group and me more time to delve into new and exciting research directions. I am proud to represent UCCS, the College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, and the Mathematics department and highlight the type of high quality research going on. I expect this grant will stimulate research activity and encourage future students to consider pursuing research in this direction.”

Cole’s research is titled “Topological Insulators in Magneto–optical Media” in the area of electromagnetics.

“Topological insulators are materials that allow the flow of energy along the boundaries of an enclosed region. In addition, they are unusually robust to defects and imperfections that are inherent in fabricated materials. I will be studying light beam propagation in special metamaterials that act as topological insulators,” explained Cole. “This research program will entail modeling these physical systems with mathematical equations and then solving those equations. We will be interested to see how these systems behave with (nonlinear) high power fields which are notoriously difficult to solve. Through our mathematical models, we hope to elucidate the fundamental nature of these systems as well as suggest novel optical devices that harness the benefits of topological insulators.”

A figure highlighting the behavior of a topological insulator. An electromagnetic mode is propagating around a defect notch with no loss of intensity (brightness).

Cole has been preparing for this grant application process for several years. After learning during his postdoc years how difficult it is to obtain, he began ruminating on research projects that fit within Air Force’s research goals. In 2021, he received a seed grant from the Committee on Research and Creative Works for a course offload and student stipend to develop preliminary results to include in the grant proposal and spent about a month last summer writing the actual proposal. He then worked with Gwen Gennaro and Whitney Porter at the Office of Sponsored Programs to refine the proposal and finish the process.

“To be selected for this grant is a great honor. I look forward to using this opportunity to advancing the field of topological insulators in electromagnetic systems. My team and I will take the next few years to better model and describe these systems. This is also a great opportunity for students to learn more about nonlinear waves, a research specialty in the Mathematics department at UCCS,” said Cole.

According to YIP Program Manager Ellen Robinson, AFOSR received more than 175 proposals requesting about $78.5 million in funding for the 2023 fiscal year. YIP is open to U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are scientists and engineers at research institutions in the U.S. The full list of 2023 YIP recipients can be seen here.

“We couldn’t be prouder to have not one, but two, Young Investigator Awardees at UCCS this year,” said Jessi L. Smith, Vice Provost & Associate Vice Chancellor for Research. “This is an incredibly competitive award that recognizes the very best in potentially globally impactful research. The award shines a light on the exceptional promise of the work of Dr. Cole and Dr. Brown and brings national attention to UCCS.”

“Dr. Cole and Dr. Brown are role models for our students and are blazing a trail for cutting-edge discoveries,” she continued. “Both are also past recipients of an internal UCCS CRCW seed grant, which demonstrates how a little bit of funding can go a long way to build up to a groundbreaking idea. This is truly an impressive achievement.”

About AFRL

The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit their site.


The Air Force Office of Scientific Research, or AFOSR, expands the horizon of scientific knowledge through its leadership and management of the Department of the Air Force’s basic research program. As a vital component of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), AFOSR’s mission is to discover, shape, champion and transitions high- risk basic research that profoundly impacts the future Air and Space Forces. AFOSR accomplishes its mission through global investment in advanced discovery research efforts in relevant scientific areas. Central to AFOSR’s strategy is the transfer of the fruits of basic research to industry, the supplier of Department of the Air Force acquisitions; to the academic community, which can lead the way to still more accomplishment; and to the other directorates of AFRL that carry the responsibility for applied research leading to acquisition.

About the UCCS College of Letters, Arts & Sciences

The College of Letters, Arts & Sciences at UCCS is the university’s largest college, enrolling nearly 6,000 students across 21 departments and programs. The college offers 19 majors and 53 minors in the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Students can also choose from five accelerated bachelor’s and master’s degrees, nine full master’s degrees and three Ph.D. degrees, as well as pre-medical and pre-law programs. The mission of the college is to position graduates for success in their personal and professional lives, with a focus on thinking, creating and communicating — skills vital to employers and graduate and professional schools. Learn more about the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences at UCCS.