Department of Chemistry

Biochemistry & Chemical Biology

Research ImageGraduate students in biochemistry and chemical biology meld molecular and structural biology with physical, organic and analytical chemistry to understand the molecular basis of biological processes and of human disease. Research in the Biochemistry and Chemical Biology Division focuses on the structure and function of proteins, membranes, DNA, RNA, large macromolecular complexes and viruses, natural product biogenesis, synthetic biology, and genomics.

Students are a constant source of new hypotheses for mechanisms underlying cellular machines like the ribosome and spliceosome, and for the protein and RNA folding problems. Students tackle these problems using biochemical methods, chemical biosensor technologies, protein and nucleic acid crystallography, in vitro and in vivo evolution, multi-dimensional NMR spectroscopy, surface chemistry, atomic force microscopy, fluorescence spectroscopy, and high-resolution mass spectrometry.

Doctoral students in Biochemistry and Chemical Biology leave the Department broadly trained for leadership roles in academia and industry.





Chemistry Ph.D. Program

Graduate Training in Chemical Biology, Biochemistry and Biophysics

Program Overview

The Chemistry department at UNC has outstanding research programs in modern Biological Chemistry. Areas of focus include understanding the molecular basis of biological processes and of human disease. Chemistry faculty lead one of the broadest networks of collaborative biological scholarship at UNC. The Departmental graduate training program provides a collegial, interdisciplinary, and unifying home for students interested in chemical biology, biochemistry, biophysics, and genome sciences.

General Program of Study
The overall program is flexible in order to meet the diverse scientific goals of individual students. Requirements designed to prepare students for research are completed by the end of the second year. The Department is proud of its record of graduating the majority of its students within five years. Over five years, the general program is:

Year one:
Class work, research-group rotations, teaching, selection of a research mentor.

Year two:
Begin the research experience, pass a written qualifying exam, and write and defend a Prospectus on the topic of your proposed doctoral research project.

Year three:
Become intensively involved in research and present a seminar on your doctoral research project.

By year five:
Publish, write a doctoral dissertation, and present a public defense of your research results.

Course selection is flexible and is developed in consultation with a faculty advisor with the goal of meeting the training needs of the individual student. In general, the Department emphasizes small enrollment didactic and literature-based courses. A starting point in the first year is the following:

CHEM 731: Seminar in Biological Chemistry (2)
CHEM 732: Advances in Macromolecular Structure and Function (3)

Students should take one of the following:
CHEM 431: Macromolecular Structure & Function (3)
CBIO 643: Cell Structure and Function I (3)
BIOC 650-650: Biophysics Series (3)

CHEM 730: Chemical Biology (3)
CHEM 732: Seminar in Biological Chemistry (2)

Elective courses selected from, but not limited to, the following (2-4 hrs):
CHEM 734: Biomolecular NMR (1-3)
CHEM 735: Macromolecular Interactions (1)
CHEM 736: Macromolecular Crystallography (2)
BIOC 664: Macromolecular Spectroscopy (1)
BIOC 700: Current Topics in RNA Structure (2)

Qualifying Exams
The written qualifying exam is held in September of year two, with a second opportunity in January if needed. The broad outline and background literature for these questions are provided approximately one month prior to the exam. There are typically three questions involving current and advanced topics in chemical biology and biochemistry.

The oral and written Prospectus exam is completed by the end of the fourth semester and consists of a written (12 page, not include references) dissertation proposal and an oral examination. The student defends the proposal in front of a thesis committee of five professors. For the oral examination, students prepare a formal presentation of approximately 30 minutes. The committee evaluates the feasibility of the proposed work, the chemical and biochemical knowledge of the student, and whether the student has the skills to accomplish the dissertation work in a timely trajectory.