Curriculum Detail and Sample Schedule

The Biochemistry major is intended for students seeking to understand the molecular basis of life processes from the perspective of the physical sciences. The major emphasizes development of skills and knowledge in the core subjects of chemistry, physics and math, as well as their applications. Mentored research with a Penn research group is an essential component of the program, which requires substantial commitments of student time and effort.

Required Courses

For entrance into the major, a student should complete by the end of year 2 each of the following courses.

  • General chemistry I: CHEM 1012 or CHEM 1151
  • General chemistry II: CHEM 1022 or CHEM 1161
  • General Chemistry with Laboratory: CHEM 1101 and CHEM 1102;
  • Physics I: PHYS 0150 or PHYS 0170
  • Physics II: PHYS 0151 or PHYS 0171
  • Calculus I: MATH 1400
  • Calculus II: MATH 1410 or MATH 1610
  • Organic Chemistry I with laboratory: CHEM 2411
  • Organic Chemistry II with laboratory: CHEM 2421
  • Principles of Biological Chemistry: CHEM 2510

Students entering with an advanced standing and/or credit for course work outside Penn should consult with a Biochemistry program advisor.

All majors must complete the following courses.

  • Physical Chemistry I: CHEM 2210 (Fall only)
  • Physical Chemistry II: CHEM 2220 (Spring only)
  • Biological Chemistry I: CHEM 5510 (Fall only)
  • Biological Chemistry II: CHEM 5520 (Spring only)
  • Biochemistry Laboratory: BCHE 4597 (Fall/Spring)

Mentored Research

Mentored research with the group of a principal investigator on or near the Penn campus is required. Biochemistry 4597 is a two-semester sequence, Fall/Spring, in the fourth (final) year only. Students are required to identify a host faculty laboratory and supervisor by the start of their 6th semester at Penn. Most students find a faculty supervisor in their second year and may take several units of Biochemistry 2999 (Independent Study). Learning any one area of research requires time, and students are encouraged to identify a group early, in year 2 or 3. A goal of the research experience is to advance the research effort of the host group. Investigators are under no obligation to host or retain a Biochemistry major if the student is not meeting the standards of the group. Host groups invest substantial time, effort, and resources to undergraduate research, which culminates with BCHE 4597 in the last year. Students must have arranged a host group, with the approval of a Biochemistry major advisor, by the start of the Spring term prior to the academic year they intend to register for BCHE 4597, which is usually January of year 3. Students not associated with a research laboratory in spring of year 3 may not continue with the major.

A Biochemistry program chair should be consulted regarding acceptable Independent Study projects for Biochemistry 2999. Normally, independent study is in addition to 4 c.u. of lecture and laboratory course work in any semester. No more than 2 c.u. of independent study may be taken in one semester. Students wishing to take a total of more than 4 c.u. of independent study toward their B.A. degrees should consult with an undergraduate major chair.

Recommended electives:

  • Mathematics: MATH 2400, 2600, 2410, 3120, 3200
  • Physics: PHYS 1230, 1240, 2280, 3351, 3361, 3362, 3364
  • Chemistry: CHEM 2230, 2610; 5000-level and above
  • Biology: BIOL 2110, 2210, and 2701; BIOL 3000, 4000, 5000 level courses; BIOL 5240.

Sector requirements:

The major fulfills the Physical World Sector. Students in the Biochemistry major may count a 2000-level BIOL course toward the Sector V “Living World” requirement.

Students are expected to abide by the policies and procedures of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Sample Schedule

Year 1 Fall           Year 1 Spring         
CHEM 1012 or 1151 CHEM 1022 or 1161
CHEM 1101 CHEM 1102
MATH 1400 MATH 1410 or 1610
PHYS 0150 or 0170 (year 1 or 2) PHYS 0151 or 0171 (year 1 or 2)
Year 2 Fall          Year 2 Spring         
CHEM 2411 CHEM 2421
CHEM 2510
CHEM 2210 (Fall only, year 2 or 3) CHEM 2220 (Spring only, year 2 or 3)
Year 3 Fall          Year 3 Spring         
CHEM 5510 (Fall only, year 3 or 4) CHEM 5520 (Spring only, year 3 or 4)
Year 4 Fall          Year 4 Spring         
BCHE 4597 (Fall only) BCHE 4597 (Spring only)
Advanced Courses Advanced Courses