BBSP Training in Chemical Biology, Biochemistry and Biophysics

The Chemistry department at UNC is ranked among the top ten in the country and has outstanding research programs in all areas of modern 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.

The overarching goal of the doctoral program is to train students broadly for leadership roles in academia and industry.

For specific information on the Ph.D. program in the biological group in Chemistry, please see:

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.

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 recommended schedule is:


CHEM 732: Advances in Macromolecular Structure and Function (3)

Students should also choose 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)

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)

Other options include elective coursework in organic and physical chemistry, cell biology, and computer science and bioinformatics.

Qualifying Exams

The written qualifying exam is held in September of year two, with a second opportunity in January if needed. The exam is taken on a single day. 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) 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

Chemistry Fall Graduate Courses

CHEM 430 INTRODUCTION TO BIOLOGICAL CHEMISTRY: (3) Fall. The study of cellular processes including catalysts, metabolism, bioenergetics, and biochemical genetics. The structure and function of biological macromolecules involved in these processes will be emphasized.

* CHEM 431 MACROMOLECULAR STRUCTURE AND METABOLISM: (3) Fall. Structure of DNA and methods in biotechnology; DNA replication and repair; RNA structure, synthesis, localization and transcriptional reputation; protein structure/function, biosynthesis, modification, localization, and degradation.

** CHEM 732 ADVANCES IN MACROMOLECULAR STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION: (3) Fall. In-depth analysis of the structure-function relationships that govern protein-protein and protein-nucleic acid interactions and enzyme function. Topics emphasize biological processes including replication, DNA repair, transcription, translation, RNA processing, assembly of protein complexes, and regulation of enzyme specificity. Course includes selections from both the current and classic literature that highlight the broad range of techniques used to study these processes.

Chemistry Spring Graduate Courses

CHEM 430 INTRODUCTION TO BIOLOGICAL CHEMISTRY: (3) Spring. The study of cellular processes including catalysts, metabolism, bioenergetics, and biochemical genetics. The structure and function of biological macromolecules involved in these processes will be emphasized.

* CHEM 432 METABOLIC CHEMISTRY & CELLULAR REGULATORY NETWORKS: (3) Spring. Biological membranes, membrane protein structure, transport phenomena; metabolic pathways, reaction themes, regulatory networks; metabolic transformations with carbohydrates, lipids, amino acids, and nucleotides; regulatory networks, signal transduction.

** CHEM 730 CHEMICAL BIOLOGY: (3) Spring. Application of chemical principles and tools to study and manipulate biological systems; in-depth exploration of examples from the contemporary literature. Topics include new designs for the genetic code, drug design, chemical arrays, single molecule experiments, laboratory-based evolution, chemical sensors, and synthetic biology.


**   Strongly recommended for BBSP students interested in Chemical Biology or Biochemistry

* Recommended for students who have not had significant prior coursework in Biochemistry