Biochemistry Major Program

Understanding, investigating, and engineering living systems heavily rely on principles from chemistry and physics. The importance of these relationships underlie the Biochemistry major. The major provides a physical, quantitative perspective on biological and biomolecular systems and also prepares students for advanced study in a wide variety of areas, including:

  • Biochemistry
  • Biophysics
  • Biotechnology and Bioengineering
  • Cell biology
  • Chemistry
  • Chemical Biology
  • Computational Biology and Bioinformatics
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Molecular Biology
  • Molecular genetics
  • Nanotechnology
  • Neurobiology
  • Structural Biology
  • Systems biology

Biochemistry is an interdisciplinary major. Students learn that cellular processes can be understood in terms of concepts from physics and chemistry. The specificity and diversity of biological molecules, organisms, and ecosystems have their origins in chemistry and physics. Students understand that experimental observations and findings has limitations dependent on the methods used for collecting and analyzing data. Students understand elements of the mathematics and physical science necessary to design and interpret experimental and computational studies.

A distinctive feature of the undergraduate Biochemistry program is a minimum of one year of mentored research (2 credit units of BCHE 4597A/B) in one of the approximately 1000 independent basic and applied science research laboratories on or adjacent to the Penn campus. All of Penn’s biomedical research programs are located in University City, each a short walk from any one of the undergraduate dormitories. Participation in research for credit as a mentored independent study (BCHE 2999) may start as early as the second year. As a result of research participation, Biochemistry majors apply their knowledge toward scientific investigations while becoming familiar with scientific careers, including the progression from college student to scientific investigator at a research university. Since most graduate students and postdoctoral associates in Penn research groups take jobs outside of academia, Biochemistry majors are also exposed to the transition from academic research laboratory to positions in government and industry.

Undergraduate Biochemistry majors are responsible for hosting and organizing a speaker series with invited scientists, most of whom are world-renowned researchers from other university, government, and industrial laboratories. Students engage with leading researchers to learn about a wide variety of career trajectories. Majors develop not only a good grasp of the fundamentals of Biochemistry, but also a strong sense of directions for future research.

The primary objective is to have each Biochemistry major excel after graduation as a result of the student’s curiosity, effort, determination, and Penn experience. Many do so by entering graduate school or medical training programs. 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. The major provides the basic science background for health professionals as well as for prospective science teachers.

Students considering a major in Biochemistry should consult with a Biochemistry Program chair as soon as possible, preferably before the start of the first year, especially if one has AP credit or advanced standing in science and mathematics. Call 215-898-4771 or send an email to for an appointment with a Biochemistry program chair or to contact current undergraduate Biochemistry students.

Related majors at Penn include Biophysics and Biology.

Entering first-year students may be interested in the Roy and Diana Vagelos Scholars Program in the Molecular Life Sciences (Vagelos MLS).  Many Vagelos MLS students are majors in the Biochemistry program.