The Program

The total Graduation Requirement is 36 credit units (cu) for students majoring in Biochemistry, an 18 credit unit major requirement. This program, in combination with the College General Education Curriculum, typically satisfies undergraduate course suggestions or requirements for entry into most medical schools.

First & Second Year

Students should complete the following courses by the end of the second year.

Calculus, 2 semesters (2 cu)

  • MATH 1400
  • MATH 1410 or MATH 161

General Chemistry, 2 semesters with laboratory (3 cu)

  • CHEM 1012 General Chemistry I or CHEM 1151 Honors Chemistry I
  • CHEM 1022 General Chemistry II or CHEM 1161 Honors Chemistry II
  • CHEM 1101 General Chemistry Laboratory I
  • CHEM 1102 General Chemistry Laboratory II

General Physics with calculus, 2 semesters with laboratory (3 cu)

  • PHYS 0150 or PHYS 0170
  • PHYS 0151 or PHYS 0171

Organic Chemistry, 2 semesters with laboratory (3 cu)

  • CHEM 2411 Principles of Organic Chemistry I with Laboratory
  • CHEM 2421 Principles of Organic Chemistry II with Laboratory

Biochemistry, 1 semester (1 cu)

  • CHEM 2510 Principles of Biological Chemistry

Third Year

Physical Chemistry, 2 semesters (2 cu). Students may complete requirement in years 2 or 3.

  • CHEM 2210 (Fall only) Physical Chemistry I
  • CHEM 2220 (Spring only) Physical Chemistry II

Biochemistry, 2 semesters (2 cu). Students may complete requirement in years 3 or 4.

  • CHEM 5510 (Fall only)  Biological Chemistry I
  • CHEM 5520 (Spring only) Biological Chemistry II

Fourth Year

Mentored Research in Selected Faculty Laboratories. (2 cu) Biochemistry Laboratory is a two-semester sequence completed in a student’s final two semesters.

  • BCHE 4597A/4587B (Fall/Spring) Biochemistry Laboratory

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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.

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 2410
  • Organic Chemistry II with laboratory: CHEM 2420 or CHEM 2425
  • 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 4597A/B (Fall/Spring)

Mentored laboratory research is required. Biochemistry 4597A/B 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. The 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 4597A/B in the last year. The grade for both semesters of this year-long research is provided at the end of the Spring term. 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 4597A/B, 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 include:

  • 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 and (especially) BIOL 5240.

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. Policies and Procedures can be found here.

Example Schedule with Required Courses

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


PHYS 0151 or 0171 (year 1 or 2)

Year 2 Fall         

Year 2 Spring         

CHEM 2410

CHEM 2420 or 2425


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 4597A (Fall only)

BCHE 4597B (Spring only)

Advanced Courses

Advanced Courses

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

Copies of the Class of 2015Class of 2016, and Class of 2017 Policies and Procedures are avaliable.

Form for Research Participation Responsibilities

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The Biochemistry major is a physical science major that emphasizes the application of physical and quantitative methods to biological systems. Physics with calculus and lab (3 cu) and Physical Chemistry (2 cu) are required.  We note that related majors include Chemistry, Biophysics, and Biology.

Students planning on declaring the major must arrange a meeting with a major advisor.  The student should come prepared with (a) plans for after graduation, (b) plans (specific courses, codes and titles, and terms taken) for completing general and major requirements, and (c) plans for identifying and joining a research group at Penn if not already affiliated with a group.

Admission to the major is subject to approval by Biochemistry Program advisors.

After receiving approval, students initiate major declaration via PATH at Penn.

After receiving advisor approval, students must meet with Ms. Katherine Henkel, Biochemistry coordinator, to be declared as a major (See “people” tab on this site for her contact).