Chemistry professor David Blank provides inspiration and confidence to students studying rigorous subjects

Thermodynamics and quantum mechanics lie at the intersection of chemistry and physics. These two difficult, mathematically oriented subjects are the part of the chemistry curriculum most dreaded by undergraduates nationwide. Since he started teaching at the University of Minnesota nearly 10 years ago, Professor David Blank has focused on these subjects.

His students’ comments have been consistently and remarkably positive. They draw inspiration and confidence from Blank even though he demands the highest level of rigor. One undergraduate says, “He’ll have you excited about partition functions…even if you don’t quite yet grasp what they are exactly.” Another recalls, “He treated me as an intellectual equal, and it has given me confidence in my academic endeavors.”

He has, in the words of a colleague, “the unusual ability to cut to the essence of a topic and distill it down into a form that is palatable.” Blank’s novel teaching methods include an offer to do pushups if caught in blackboard errors, a “muddiest point” comment box, and in-class experiments such as “the screaming gummy bear.”

He has mentored many research undergraduates, involving them in complex laser experiments for processes that last less than a trillionth of a second. A former student who is now a scientist says, “I am constantly reminded how much more prepared I was for my professional career because of my research experience with Professor Blank.”