YouTube is spending a pretty penny telling the story of the Army veteran with a 10th grade education as far as math who became a physics sensation. The campaign is more than a feel “good story” about a soldier that returned home and transitioned successfully. It is part of an advertising campaign by YouTube to show the power of the platform for teaching people all types of things — even physics.
Josh Carroll went from soldier to physics sensation. That journey was recently celebrated by the university where he eventually got his degree. According to a statement, “Radford University alumnus Josh Carroll ’17 is featured in a YouTube spotlight video that highlights his journey from veteran to physicist.
“In the 4-minute-long video titled ‘Reaching for the stars,’ Carroll shares his love of space and how he worked his way through school and rigorous science courses with help from YouTube videos.”
Carroll, after leaving the army, thought frequently about a love for physics that began at an early age. In an interview he described his interest going back “light years,” he joked.
While in elementary school in the third grade, he was asked to create a drawing of where he thought he would be when he graduated from high school. “I drew myself in a lab coat with a telescope behind me looking out the window at Saturn in the sky. I was holding a beaker,” Carroll remembered.
His fascination with space and physics continued throughout each of his deployments with the United States Army. In Iraq, as the war continued around him, he had to change his focus from the stars in the sky to life — and death — on earth. His life depended on it.
The veteran’s journey to Radford University was similar to any successful space — or even military mission. It came with enormous intensity, adventure, and focus.
In the YouTube video (below), scenes were shot in Carroll’s hometown of Blacksburg, Virginia and at New River Community College. That school was his first academic home after the military, later he transferred to Radford.
Carroll majored in physics and minored in math and astronomy. While at the school he became the first student in the university’s history to create an original planetarium show. According to the university, “He graduated in 2017 at the top of his class.”
He came back to the university earlier this year with YouTube staff and a production team to film the video. Radford University Department of Physics Professor Rhett Herman, who worked closely with Carroll while he was a student, is featured in several different interviews.
Currently Carroll is working as a scientist and electronics/systems engineer for Booz-Allen-Hamilton in McLean, Virginia.
“I’m continually pushing the boundary of getting people to know more and more about the universe,” he said in the video. “I can’t see a stopping point for me ever doing that.”
His detour from an academic pursuit to one of the military happened due to one pivotal moment. When he was a freshman attending Blacksburg High School, the September 11 attacks happened.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” he said. “I watched the towers come down live…I was actually in New York City prior to 9/11 and have a photo of my brother and I leaning against the South Tower.”
Carroll said up until that moment, he had only “toyed” with the idea of enlisting.
“9/11 solidified it,” he said.
Between three deployments, Carroll worked various odd jobs. As a high school janitor, he often rushed his duties and ended long days in the library. One night, a book in the science section caught his attention and his imagination: “A Brief History of Time,” by Stephen Hawking.
“That was the book that kind of changed everything for me,” he said. “It sucked me in and reminded me of how much I loved science and space.”
That inspiration led to the independent study of physics, aggressive use of YouTube videos, a stint in community college, to his eventual graduation from Radford. It is an exciting adventure that continues today.