When Jeff Dahn answers the phone at work, the first thing you notice is the sound of blowing air.
“Our air conditioners run in the winter,” said Dr. Dahn, a professor of physics at Dalhousie University and a leading expert in battery technology. Working in rooms packed from floor to ceiling with testing equipment, all of which generates enormous amounts of heat, he and his team have spent years advancing the subtle science of lithium-ion batteries – the slim little power packs that have become key enablers of the smartphone era.
In recognition of his long and impressive track record in the field, Dr. Dahn has been named this year’s winner of the Herzberg Gold Medal, Canada’s most prestigious science prize. But at 60, Dr. Dahn shows little sign of powering down.
Last year his work brought Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors Inc. to his doorstep. The company has set up a research facility in nearby Dartmouth, N.S., with the aim of jump-starting a revolution in electric-car performance by leveraging Dr. Dahn’s insights.
“Jeff is very practical. He’s not a blue-sky research person who’s going to come up with something that can’t be used,” said Kurt Kelty, director of energy-storage technologies at Tesla, based in Palo Alto, Calif.
By his own description, Dr. Dahn is not a “high-flyer academic” with a string a papers in top research journals. Others say he is a gifted and perceptive scientist whose explorations into the inner workings of batteries are highly regarded in a field where pragmatic approaches are favoured over publishing prowess.
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