By Jonathan Steckel, Class of 1996
Life for me after Kimberton Waldorf School in 1996 was focused on studying at Oberlin college and playing sports. I felt like I had to find an area of study that I was passionate and excited about and that would lead me on a career path towards the ability to earn a good salary to support my desire to travel and eat well. My first year at Oberlin was dedicated to playing varsity soccer and lacrosse with less focus on taking the standard prerequisite classes. I felt lost with no class subjects or idea of what I wanted to study pulling me forward. I pushed through the academic system last minute a one-year study abroad in Bologna through Brown University and spent my second year of college in Italy. I studied Italian literature, architecture, and history at the University of Bologna, but spent most of the year traveling around Italy and emerging myself in the culture. That year I met my current wife, Francesca, that lead me down a path of a lifelong connection to Italy and Europe’s culture. My third year of college at Oberlin after my year abroad exposed me to Chemistry and Physics and everything clicked. I was excited to study and dive deeper and I had found an area of study that pulled me in and allowed me to explain the physical world I saw around me. I worked hard and threw all my energy and passion towards chemistry for my remaining time at Oberlin, which lead to a PhD in chemistry at MIT in Boston that started in 2001.
MIT challenged me like nothing I had ever experienced previously in my life. Once I understood how to leverage all the resources around me and ask for help from all the amazing people working by my side, I started to thrive. My first year was miserable and I almost quit and walked away several times. I’m thankful I had Francesca there with me encouraging me and forcing me to continue in the toughest moments. After all the grueling classroom work and cumulative exams in the first two years, the lab work focused on the development of a new class of materials called quantum dots was great fun. In close collaboration with a professor in the electrical engineering department, we made new types of light-emitting devices (LEDs) using thin films of these semiconductor nanoparticles or quantum dots (QDs). We made infrared emitting devices, red, green, and blue emitting devices for displays, and developed a new way of fabricating and patterning these light emitters, which led to several patents and publications and ultimately to us founding a company called QD Vision.
At QD Vision we commercialized the world’s first solid state light bulbs containing QD materials in 2010 and then in 2013 we commercialized the world’s first TVs containing QDs with Sony in their Bravia line. The company was sold to Samsung in 2016 and was the basis for all the current QLED and QD-OLED TVs and monitors currently made by every display company in the world. QD Vision was not a financial success for me personally, but it was a huge technological success that propelled my career significantly forward. I joined Apple in Cupertino after my time at QD Vision and for many years worked on developing new display and sensor technologies based on quantum dot materials. The sensor projects brought me to Europe frequently, where eventually I found a way to move to permanently by taking a new role at STMicroelectronics located in Grenoble, France. I’m now a Fellow and Director of Advanced Technology in the imaging division at ST, where I have a very dynamic role working to commercialize a new QD image sensor technology that I have been working on for many years.
I’ve worked hard and had a lot of success in my career to date and am recognized as one of world’s top experts in quantum dot materials and devices, displays, and now sensors. I give several invited talks and seminars at large technical conferences every year and I also try to give back to the community and do a lot of volunteer work. I do guest editorial work, participate in several technical conference committees, and provide my guidance and advice to many startups as well as large companies in the US and here in Europe.
Moving permanently from Silicon Valley to Europe 4 years ago was a very deliberate decision we made based on our desire to live a more balanced lifestyle, where quality of life is prioritized over career, where good food and local cuisine is prioritized over profits, and where the cost of living is more reasonable. More vacation time and significantly better work life balance has provided so much more free time for me to spend with my family and begin to explore a key component in a balanced and happy life, which I’ve come to believe is building and creating with our hands. As time passed since my days at Kimberton Waldorf school, I could feel that this was an important piece of life that was missing for me. I started to feel the need to make stuff with my hands and to create and build things in my free time. This brought me a sense of accomplishment and contentment as one idea sprouted and turned into a physical reality that we could use in our house or share with others. For me this unfolded over the past several years in the form of woodworking as I took on more practical projects for the house like cabinets and shelves to more creative projects like carving fish with my daughter. I’m now in the process of continuing to build out a more serious wood shop in our house and to take on more challenging builds of furniture and artistic pieces.
I’ve come to believe that all of us need to spend some amount of time expressing a little creativity and using our hands to build or create. Some people turn to playing music, others to painting, and in my case, it was woodworking that filled this missing piece in my life and brought back a sense of contentment and peace. I was lucky to attend Waldorf school from 2nd to 12th grade where we spent so much of our time crafting and making with our hands. I now understand why and believe that this aspect of life is one of the most important for us to engage in regularly throughout our lives to give us a sense of wholeness and feel complete inside.