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Derek Vigil-Fowler

Board President

Derek Vigil-Fowler received his Ph.D in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, during which he also started the India-based nonprofit Lok Sahbhagi Sanstha (LSS). In growing LSS, he gained expertise in defining and executing a rigorous mission focused on scientific and technically-oriented projects, grant-writing and relations with funders, and developing and tracking success metrics. His scientific work focuses on the use of supercomputers  and state-of-the-art calculations to study physical processes and chemical reactions critical to clean energy. When he’s not effecting social change, Derek enjoys the simple pleasures in life, like time with family, mountain streams, and the craft of a perfectly made cappuccino.

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Howard Branz

Board Vice President and Acting Science Director

From 2012 to 2015, Howard was a Program Director at the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Projects Research Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), where he selected and incubated more than $70M of interdisciplinary energy technology projects with transformational potential.  Previously, Howard was a group leader and Research Fellow at the the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). During more than 25 years at NREL, Howard led research in diverse fields including photovoltaics, nanotechnology, color-change windows, semiconductors, optics, photoelectrochemistry and materials science. He has published over 100 scientific papers, has patented more than 20 inventions and now consults with early-stage energy technology ventures.  Howard earned his Ph.D. in Physics at MIT and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society. Howard is an avid amateur mycologist and Rocky Mountain backpacker. He always carries garlic and olive oil on August hikes to complement the Colorado porcini.

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Brent Nelson

Board 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 support technologies ranging from photovoltaics to nanoparticle generation to fuel cells to batteries to other energy-related material systems.  He has extensive budgeting and project management experience for NREL and several non-profit organizations. Around Labor Day, you’ll find Brent practicing his archery skills as he hunts elk.

 
 
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Ethan Palay

Board Secretary

Ethan Palay is a renewable energy asset manager in charge of operations for wind, solar, and energy storage power plants around North America.  He received his Master’s degree in Materials Science and Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines, with a concentration in materials for solar energy.  His research focused on advanced manufacturing techniques for highly efficient, low cost, 3rd generation solar photovoltaics. He has also worked on solar water splitting, a promising technique for clean production of hydrogen for fuel cells. On the weekends, Ethan likes to rock climb, stargaze, and camp with his dog, Bee.

 
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Jim Russell

Director of Marketing and Fundraising

As an executive at McKinney and Euro RSCG Circle, Jim led the digital strategy for MINI, Verizon, Audi, and Travelocity. He started his career at Accenture, first in artificial intelligence, and then at their Center for Strategic Technology in Palo Alto. Jim has been interviewed by the New York Times regarding innovation as applied to advertising and has spoken at Forrester Research events. Over the past several years, he has advised, served on the board, or acted as CMO for multiple startups. Jim enjoys discovering new music of all kinds and sharing his findings with friends.