The Biochemistry Major

The developments in modern biological sciences rely extensively on techniques and principles of chemistry and physics. The importance of this relationship has led to the design of a major which prepares students for advanced study in biochemistry, biophysics, biotechnology, molecular biology, molecular genetics, structural biology, genetic engineering, neurobiology, and cell biology. It provides the basic science background for health professional schools and for prospective science teachers.

The Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Molecular Life Sciences is an enhanced version of the Biochemistry course program.

The biochemistry major at Penn places a strong emphasis on a foundation in chemistry and physical sciences. This forms the basis for understanding the specific molecular interactions in the living organism. The unique feature of the undergraduate program is a minimum of one year of research (BCHE 404*) in one of the approximately 1000 faculty research laboratories on campus. It is a requirement that is possible because all of Penn's biomedical research programs are at the same location. Participation in research for credit (BCHE 299, 300) may start as early as the sophomore year.

As part of the 3 semester sequence in biological chemistry (Chem 251, Chem 451, and Chem 452), the undergraduates are responsible for the organization of a series of weekly research seminars with invited scientists from other universities and industrial laboratories. Graduates of this program develop not only a good grasp of the fundamentals of biochemistry, but also a strong sense of direction for future research. Currently, there are about thirty Biochemistry Majors graduating per year.

To be realistic, students interested in a career based on biochemistry should plan to work towards a Ph.D., M.D. or related advanced degree. Graduate programs open to biochemistry majors include those in chemistry, biology, molecular biology, and molecular genetics, as well as all of the basic science departments in medical schools, including departments of pharmacology. Those considering a major in biochemistry should consult with the chairman, as soon as possible, preferably in their first year, especially if you have AP credit in Science and Mathematics from high school. Contact us at for an appointment with the chair or to contact current undergraduate biochemistry students who are members of the Undergraduate Advisory Board.

Students with AP credit should consider submatriculation for a Chemistry MS to be awarded with the BA at graduation.

For course program and details go to the Biochemistry Program.