The future of energy may be in the hands of a Knoxville High School alumnus, one who credits a portion of his interest in the field to the teachers who helped him here.
Stephen Maldanado, son of Alfredo and Myriam Maldanado of Knoxville, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. His job includes teaching classes, but his focus is on running a research group. In this role, Maldanado mentors students and recent graduates.
Maldanado is in his fifth year as an Assistant Professor. He said the university has given him five years to build a case, to become a full-time professor, before submitting it to the university. This summer, the university will make its decision, based upon the package he is able to compile from his years with the research group, to submit to the university.
“In general, you want your package as strong as possible,” Maldanado said.
The “big picture” idea his group has worked on is artificial photosynthesis. He wants to find a way to take energy and convert to chemicals to use as a fuel. As his research has progressed, the group has found a new way to make semiconductor materials, cleaner and at a lower cost. Part of the package he will present will include articles and other published materials related to the research.
Maldanado’s journey to Michigan began after his graduation from KHS in 1997. He went on to the University of Iowa, with the intention of entering the chemistry field.
As he earned his undergraduate degree, he worked for a professor who was working on fuel cells. This piqued his interest.
After earning his doctorate, Maldanado looked for a way to get back to the Midwest. The university, when hiring assistant professors, seeks people to fill certain areas of study. When Maldanado was hired, he organized the research group.
“It’s really cool to be on the cutting edge of scientific discovery,” Maldanado said.
To properly lead his team and present the findings of his research requires writing, explaining his findings and organizing his thoughts and arguments. These skills, which continue to aid him today, came from KHS teachers including Curt Froyen, Greg Stults and Bud Bright.
These teachers helped him discover his skill sets. He still remembers the way he was coached, both in the classroom and on the track.
One of the highlights of his job today is mentoring and training students, applying the very skills he learned in Knoxville.
Outside of the classroom, Maldanado is married to Bridget and the couple have a three-year-old daughter, Quinn. The couple met while attending the University of Iowa, and Bridget is originally from Bellvue.
Raising a family, while leading the research team has been hectic. Maldanado works many hours, trying to get results, but he finds time for his wife and daughter.
“I think I’m trying to strike a good balance,” Maldanado said.
He is also striking a balance between being a “die-hard Iowa fan,” while working for Big 10 rival Michigan. He said the key is to remain neutral when the teams play each other and to hope for the best, for both teams, at all other times.