Our Team

Alt-E Fund is comprised of clean energy scientists who know the importance of investing in energy research.  We are united by a mission to realize a sustainable world which is driven by development and implementation of clean energy technologies. 


Board of Directors


Derek vigil-fowler, Executive director and President

Derek Vigil-Fowler is a theoretical physicist with a long history of non-profit work, primarily in India. He got his Ph.D in physics from the University of California, Berkeley. His scientific expertise includes understanding how electrons in photovoltaic devices lose energy after absorption of light, the calculation of the rate and likelihood of critical chemical reactions for energy applications (e.g. hydrogen generation), and the general use of big computers and state-of-the-art calculations to study problems that are inaccessible using experimental techniques. His non-profit expertise includes defining and executing a rigorous mission focused on scientific and technically-oriented projects, grant-writing and relations with funders, and developing rigorous metrics to measure progress. He has long specialized in organizational vision and operational excellence wherever he has worked. 


Natalie Pace, Vice President

Natalie Pace is an experimental physical chemist specializing in solid-state organic photochemistry. She is completing her Ph.D. in the group of Garry Rumbles at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her doctoral work utilizes ultrafast spectroscopy to probe photodynamics in second and third generation solar cell materials. She previously worked in the group of George Nazin at the University of Oregon, where she used scanning tunneling microscopy and spectroscopy to study intrananotube quantum dots. She received a B.A. in Chemistry from Grinnell College.


brent nelson, Treasurer

Brent Nelson has worked at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory for over 30 years, spending most of his career studying thin-film solar cells. He currently manages a group of data and research equipment specialists who build and connect equipment supporting research ranging from photovoltaics to nanoparticle generation to fuel cells to batteries. He has authored or co-authored nearly 100 scientific papers.  Known as an energy wonk, he has given many energy-related talks both domestically and abroad, and gives talks on the bigger energy picture to community and industrial groups. He has refereed papers for various journals and conferences, been on organizing committees for several domestic and international scientific conferences, and served as a proposal reviewer.  Through the years he has volunteered with several non-profit organizations and has helped found three, including Alt-E Fund.


Howard Branz, Secretary

Howard Branz is a consultant to early stage technology companies and investors and is a Senior Research Associate at the University of Colorado’s Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute.  From 2012 to 2015, Howard was a Program Director at the U.S. DOE Advanced Projects Research Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), where he selected and incubated more than $70M of interdisciplinary energy technology projects with transformational potential.  Howard started ARPA-E's first solar conversion program, combining thermal storage with PV to produce low cost, low carbon, dispatchable electric power.  Previously, Howard was a Research Fellow and group leader at the the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). During more than 25 years at NREL, Branz led research in photovoltaics, nanotechnology, electrochromic windows, semiconductors, optics, epitaxy, photoelectrochemistry and materials science, published over 100 scientific papers in refereed journals and patented more than 20 inventions. He is best known for leading the first team to make black silicon solar cells with efficiencies comparable to commercial PV and for his “hydrogen collision” model of metastability in amorphous silicon. Howard earned his Ph.D. in Physics at MIT, was a Fulbright Scholar, won numerous NREL scientific awards and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.


Technical Advisors


Arthur J. Nozik

Dr. Arthur J. Nozik is Senior Research Fellow, Emeritus at the DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a Research Professor in the Chemistry Department at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a founding Fellow of the NREL/University of Colorado Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute.  Nozik has been Associate Director of a joint Los Alamos National Lab/NREL Energy Frontier Research Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics.  Nozik received his BChE from Cornell University in 1959 and his PhD in Physical Chemistry from Yale University in 1967. Dr. Nozik's research interests include size quantization effects in semiconductor quantum dots and quantum wells, including multiple exciton generation from a single photon; the applications of unique effects in nanostructures to advanced approaches for solar photon conversion to electricity and solar fuels; photogenerated carrier relaxation dynamics in various semiconductor structures; photoelectrochemistry of semiconductor-molecule interfaces; photoelectrochemical energy conversion; photocatalysis; optical, magnetic and electrical properties of solids; and Mössbauer spectroscopy. He has published over 265 papers and book chapters in these fields, written or edited 7 books, holds 11 U.S. patents, and has delivered over 365 invited Plenary, and Keynote talks at universities, conferences, and symposia. Dr. Nozik has received many  awards including the 2016 Wilbur Cross Medal of the Yale Graduate School, the 2013 Heinz Gerischer Award of European Section of the Electrochemical Society, the 2011 ACS Gustavus Esselen Award (at Harvard University) for Chemistry in the Public Interest, the 2008 Eni Award (hosted by President of Italy), and the Research Award of the U.N. Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Organization;  he also received the Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researcher Designation in 2014 (1 of  200 globally in Chemistry).   Dr. Nozik has been a Senior Editor of The Journal of Physical Chemistry for 12 years and has been on the editorial boards of many journals.   A Special Festschrift Issue of The Journal of Physical Chemistry honoring Dr. Nozik’s scientific career appeared in a December 2006 issue. Dr. Nozik is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science,  and the Royal Society of Chemistry; he is also a member of the ACS, the ECS, the MRS, and the EU Academy of Sciences.


C. Richard “Rick” Schwerdtfeger

Dr. Schwerdtfeger has 25+ years of experience as a scientist and entrepreneur. His focus has been on the development and commercialization of clean energy, semiconductor, and clean water technologies.  He is currently on the advisory boards of three start-up companies; Alt-E Fund, Clear Cove Systems, and Grox Industries.  Prior to that, he was the CTO and co-founder of ARC Energy where he developed technology that helped drive $150+ million in sales and nearly $500 million in backlog in 4 years.  He also served as a part time executive for Boer PVConnector (CEO) and Pica Solar (COO).  Before those entrepreneurial challenges, he was a Senior R&D Scientist at Saint Gobain, group manager at Alpha Spectra, and he started his career as a scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Dr. Schwerdtfeger has a PhD in Materials Science from the Colorado School of Mines, an M.S. in Applied Physics from Pittsburg State University (Pittsburg, KS), and a B.S. double majored in Science Education and Physics from the University of Dubuque in Dubuque, IA.

Dr. Rick, as he is often called by his co-workers, has produced some of the largest and highest quality semiconductor, scintillator, and optical crystals in the world.  He has invented novel equipment and processes like the CHES® sapphire crystal growth system which have reduce costs of materials accelerating mass industry shifts to lower cost materials.  He personally designed new equipment, facilities, and processes to improve the status quo of his industry.  His philosophy of using data collection and analysis to solve any problem, combined with his deep understanding of the critical relationships between man, machine, materials, processes, and facilities has allowed him to solve problems that have plagued industries for decades. 

Additionally, Dr. Schwerdtfeger spent nearly two years living and working in China for ARC Energy.  He moved there to establish a China branch office.  In six months, he got an office up and running, including hiring 25 engineering, sales, and administrative staff.  This truly was an opportunity of a lifetime to live and work in a challenging environment, and understand at the most basic level what it means to build a business from scratch in a foreign land.

Dr. Schwerdtfeger is passionate about helping to solve the world’s energy, environmental, and technical challenges in an economically and socially sustainable manner.


Kate Brown

Kate is a research scientist and expert in the interface between biology and nanotechnology. Her research is focused on biohybrid systems that convert light directly to fuels and other products by coupling biological enzymes directly to light capturing nanoparticles. Kate received her BA in chemistry at Reed College and a Ph.D. in Biological Engineering from The Massachusetts Institute and Technology. Kate is passionate about renewable energy research and the need for a fundamental understanding of the underlying phenomenon as well as the development of commercial technologies. She is also a fervent proponent of the importance of funding basic science and its unparalleled importance in transformational discoveries and in fostering creativity and innovation in science.


Anna Goldstein

Dr. Anna Goldstein is a science policy researcher with a passion for advancing clean energy technology. She is currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the Science, Technology, and Public Policy program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs in Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Her research focuses on funding and management strategies for energy technology R&D. Anna received her Ph.D. in 2014 in Chemistry with an emphasis in Nanoscale Science and Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, where she worked on understanding and improving nanomaterials for use in artificial photosynthesis and electrochemical energy storage. 


Evan reed

Evan Reed is a faculty member in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at Stanford University.  He received a B.S. in applied physics from Caltech (1998) and PhD. in physics from MIT (2003).  In 2004, he was an E. O. Lawrence Fellow and staff scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory before moving to Stanford in 2010.  Evan Reed’s group focuses on theory and modeling of materials for energy storage and other applications.  His work to date has focused on the use of machine learning approaches to materials selection for energy storage applications and fast predictive models of chemical reactions.  His group also researches topics related to 2D materials, phase changes in materials, and high pressure shock wave compression.  He has been a Robert Noyce Faculty Scholar within the Stanford University School of Engineering and a recipient of the DARPA Young Faculty Award, NSF CAREER Award, and ONR Young Investigator Program Award.


Benjamin Lee 

Benjamin Lee is a scientist and expert on photovoltaics, who does research on high-efficiency solar cells. He also has broad knowledge of renewable energy, nanotechnology, optics, and materials science. He received the B.S. degree from the California Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Harvard University. He has previously been a Visiting Professor, in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, in Mumbai, India. Additionally, in 2014 he was a Visiting Scientist at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) in Germany. Ben is passionate about working towards a sustainable future for our world, as well as helping refugees and orphaned children; he believes that caring for the vulnerable and marginalized, and for our planet, are real ways to live out his faith in Jesus. He has also volunteered with and is a board of member of Project Worthmore – a non-profit helping refugees re-settle in Denver, and on the board of Rays of Hope US – an orphan-care and anti-sex trafficking organization.

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Elisa Miller

Dr. Elisa Miller is currently a scientist in the renewable energy field, where she specializes in photovoltaics and solar fuels research.  She has expertise in materials science and gas-phase chemistry.  Her scientific interests revolve around electron dynamics at interfaces and surfaces.  This includes quantifying the energetics of third generation solar materials and interfaces between absorber and transport layers.  Elisa received her bachelor's degree in chemistry from Boston University in 2005. In 2012, she earned her doctorate in chemistry and biochemistry from the University of Colorado, Boulder.  Elisa has established herself in the renewable energy sector by publishing in peer-reviewed journals, presenting at national and international conferences, as well as earning competitive government grants.

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Damian believes that alternative energy research across many disciplines is vital to advancing growth and ensuring sustainability for the future. With over 12 years of research experience in photosynthesis and primary metabolism of algae and cyanobacteria, he has focused on applications for biofuels and other biologically derived products.  He received his BA in Chemistry and Theatre from Washington and Jefferson College and an MA and PhD in Chemistry from Princeton University.  He currently works in Seattle at a small biotechnology company focused on advancing industrial applications for cyanobacteria. 


Kyri Baker

Dr. Kyri Baker received her Ph.D., M.S., and B.S. In Electrical and Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in 2014, 2010, and 2009, respectively, focusing on developing mathematical algorithms to improve the integration of renewable resources into the electric power grid. She joined the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) as a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Residential Buildings group in 2015 and is currently a Research Engineer in the Power Systems Engineering Center at NREL. Dr. Baker has worked with utilities and federal organizations to determine how advanced optimization and control techniques from the market level to the household level can shape the outlook of energy policies and needs of the evolving electricity grid.


Adele Tamboli

Adele Tamboli has been performing scientific research to advance solar energy technologies since 2009. Her current scientific interests include high efficiency silicon-based tandem solar cells and new materials for photovoltaics. She believes that supporting research at all stages, from basic science to manufacturing, is critical to creating a sustainable renewable energy industry that will enable a low-carbon future. Adele holds a B.S. in Physics from Harvey Mudd College, a Ph.D. in Materials from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and did postdoctoral work at Caltech.


Patrick Moriarty

Dr. Patrick Moriarty is the lead of the Turbine Modeling and Wind Resource group and has been at NREL since 2001. Dr. Moriarty's research focuses are wind turbine design, systems engineering, aerodynamics and aeroacoustics of wind turbines and resource assessment for wind plants. Currently, he is leading much of the NREL wind resource assessment work across a range of scales, with much of the focus between mesoscale and turbine scale. He leads an International Energy Agency Task on wind turbine wake model validation. He has published over 100 papers related to wind energy and also serves as associate editor for Wind Energy.


Michael Mastrandrea

Michael Mastrandrea is Co-Director of Near Zero, based at the Carnegie Institution for Science on the Stanford University campus. He worked for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from 2009 to 2015. As Co-Director of Science for the IPCC Working Group II Technical Support Unit, he helped lead the development of the Working Group II contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, a global assessment of climate change science and policy options. His research has focused on strategies for reducing climate risks and the integration and effective translation of expert knowledge for policymakers, the business community, and the general public. He was an Assistant Consulting Professor at the Stanford University Woods Institute for the Environment from 2009-2014, and received his Ph. D. from Stanford as the first graduate of the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources (E-IPER).


Sandrine Ricote

Sandrine obtained an engineering diploma in materials science and Ph.D in inorganic chemistry at the University of Burgundy, France. Prior to moving to Colorado in 2012 where she is now a Research Associate Professor in the Colorado School of Mines Mechanical Engineering Department, she spent four years as a scientist at the Danish Technical University. Her primary research focus is on ceramics for clean energy. Throughout her career, she has published over 40 peer-reviewed articles, written three book chapters, and participated in over 25 international conferences.


Sarah Pace

Sarah Pace is a trial and appellate lawyer with 15 years of experience in large Chicago law firm commercial litigation practice. Her background includes representing public and privately held companies in a wide range of litigation matters (plaintiff and defense) including breach of contract (e.g.,asset purchase agreements, vendor contracts, partnership agreements, non-compete agreements, employment agreements, trademark license, joint venture agreements, indemnification agreements), insurance coverage disputes, trade secret claims, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, tortious interference and shareholder disputes. Sarah graduated with a J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law and a B.A. from Beloit College.


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David Allen

David Allen is the animator behind Alt-E Fund's promotional video. He has five years of experience in film and four years of experience in animation. David is expecting to graduate from the Art Institute of Chicago in June of 2017, where he specializes in puppet- and 2D computer- animation.



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Josh Dey

Josh is Alt-E Fund's very first summer intern. He is a rising sophomore working towards his B.A in Physics from Reed College in Portland, Oregon. He plans to pursue interests in renewable energy research/academia after graduation, with a focus on solid-state physics, condensed matter physics, or materials science. Sustainability and clean energy are very close to Josh’s heart and he is extremely excited to help be a part of the Alt-E Fund movement.


Celeste melamed

Celeste Melamed is a Ph.D. student in Materials Science at the Colorado School of Mines studying photovoltaic materials. She is currently performing high throughput combinatorial sputtering of ternary nitrides for next-generation optoelectronics. Additionally, she has expertise in bulk single crystal growth and exfoliation of 2D materials for PV applications. She received a B.S. in Physics from Harvey Mudd College, where she was the founding president of the Women in Physics Club. Celeste is passionate about promoting inclusivity in STEM, and believes that a diverse research environment is crucial to pave the way toward a sustainable future. 

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Ethan Palay

Ethan Palay recently received his Master’s degree in Materials Science and Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines, with a concentration in solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing.  During this time, he worked on advanced manufacturing techniques for highly efficient, low cost, 3rd generation solar PV.  He has also worked on a solar water splitting project in order to cleanly produce hydrogen for fuel cells. Throughout his career, Ethan has led a variety of clean energy education, outreach, policy, and engineering projects, and believes that Alt-E Fund plays an important role in creating a sustainable world.


Sean Dunfield

Sean Dunfield is a Ph.D. candidate in Materials Science & Engineering with a focus in Energy Storage and Generation at the University of Colorado Boulder. He graduated from Syracuse University with a B.S. in Physics and B.A. in Applied Mathematics, where his passion in photovoltaics was sparked by Eric Schiff, a current member of ARPA-E. Now, he works under Sean Shaheen fabricating and analyzing thin films for application in Perovskite photovoltaic devices.

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Mark Barckholtz

Mark is an advocate for sustainable and clean energy technologies. Before studying environmental sciences and engineering he worked for 15 years as a journeyman wireman often upgrading and installing air pollution controls at power plants across the United States. He completed his work on a BA in Geography at University of Colorado, Boulder in 2016. Mark’s expertise in geography and mechanical skills are utilized by scientists to support their research activities. Mark loves working with people and building relationships for the environment and is currently functioning as a sustainability advisor as the Green Labs team lead for a building complex on campus housing environmental scientists. He may be seen commuting by bicycle across town with his son in Boulder, Colorado. If you see him, wave ‘hello!’ 


Daniel Zalkind

Daniel is an Electrical Engineering student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he is working towards his PhD studying control systems for extreme scale wind turbines.  He received a B.S. and M.S. at Drexel University before moving to Colorado.  Daniel also runs the CU Energy Club, a group dedicated to educating students about energy and connecting them with professionals in the industry.


Chloe Castaneda

Chloe is a recent graduate from Mount Holyoke College where she received her B.A. in physics. She is currently an intern through the national lab system working on next generation photovoltaic materials. She hopes to pursue work regarding science policy and outreach after completing a PhD program in chemical engineering or physics. Chloe believes an important step we need to take is to make a stronger connection between scientific research and the public and Alt-E Fund is working to do that. 


Daniel Kroupa

Daniel Kroupa is a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder.  Currently, he investigates the optical and electronic properties of solution processable semiconductor nanocrystals (e.g. quantum dots) for solar energy conversion applications.  Daniel received his B.S. in chemistry from Butler University, where he developed an interest in finding innovative technological, political, and social solutions to establish a clean energy future.