Few could accuse Peter Bier's engineering lectures of being boring.

When it comes to keeping students from nodding off, the Auckland University engineering science, maths and programming teaching fellow has more than a few tricks to transform a lecture theatre into live theatre.

And it frequently involves riding a unicycle and juggling, sometimes at the same time.

The self-confessed circus aficionado has found a way to combine his unusual leisure-time passion of unicycling and balancing acts with shaping the minds of the next generation of engineers.


With an office filled with hula hoops and a variety of juggling paraphernalia, the 37-year-old schedules a break midway through lectures with a quick performance from his repertoire of tricks.

Bier, a former national representative unicyclist, said it gave students something to look forward to and made memorable demonstrations of mathematical and scientific principles.

"Certain classes and topics lend themselves to different kinds of tricks," Bier said.

"If it's something such as rotational inertia I'll pull out my diablo, which is like a giant yo-yo that spins around, and I'll do a bunch of tricks and talk about the physics of what's going on.

"And if I'm talking about projectile motion, instead of thinking about firing a bullet, I'll throw juggling balls around the room and we can talk about the physics of a juggling ball as it goes up and down."

He said surveys showed students appreciated watching the entertainment as it helped them to focus in the second half of lectures.

"Your students enjoy it a lot more if you're passionate about your subject area. And if you bring some of your personality in, they enjoy it even more," Bier said.

"I enjoyed working as an engineer and a mathematician but I also love circus and related stuff. It's fun to bring those two together."