Holding the attention of 550 first-year Chemistry students in the largest university lecture theatre at Otago is a challenge many would understandably shy away from - but Dr Allan Blackman, Senior Lecturer in the department, relishes the opportunity. In the ten years since he joined the department, the number of first-year students has rocketed from a mere 700 or so to over 1500, making it "possibly the second largest first-year group."
"It's all about performance," he says. "I'm an Otago graduate, and I know what it's like to sit through 50 minutes of first-year Chemistry - it's a matter of keeping the students interested."
And the Chemistry department is known for putting effort into first-year classes. Dr Blackman, whose other great love is music, begins his lecture by playing an obscure piece, offering a chocolate fish to whoever can identify it.
He throws in a cartoon at half-time for light relief, or tells a really bad joke.
"Teaching styles have changed considerably over the years. There's much more use of the Internet these days - we can put a copy of the course notes on our web page for students to access prior to the class, which means when they come to lectures, instead of frantically writing, they can listen."
He is adamant about the importance of teaching. "It's every bit as vital as research - we need good students to go on and do the research, so we need to teach them well. Chemistry is the basis of almost all the sciences, so we have a very important job to do."
While Chemistry is rarely about flashes and bangs, Dr Blackman is known for his magic show. He conducts a series of controlled explosions - "just for fun. It's what turns people on to Chemistry."