Jul 19, 2024  
Rensselaer Catalog 2013-2014 
Rensselaer Catalog 2013-2014 [Archived Catalog]

Biochemistry and Biophysics

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Director, Graduate Degree Program: Chunyu Wang

Biochemistry and biophysics are closely related fields. Biochemistry focuses on the interconversion of compounds in the many complex reactions of life, on the mechanisms whereby enzymes catalyze and regulate these reactions, and the function and structure of the molecular components of living organisms. Biophysics is principally concerned with processes of energy conversion, information transmission, and the structure and properties of materials in biological systems, as explored with methods of physics. Biochemical and biophysical research is advancing the basic life sciences and making possible advances in more applied fields such as medicine and agriculture. For example, in the pharmaceutical industry, elucidating mechanisms of drug action and devising new ways of dealing with diseases increasingly depend on application of knowledge and techniques of biochemistry and biophysics.

Rensselaer’s biochemistry and biophysics undergraduate curriculum includes thorough grounding in mathematics, chemistry, and physics, along with modern biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular-level biology. Advanced biochemistry and biophysics courses impart knowledge and training in cutting-edge research approaches. Students following this curriculum are thus well prepared for graduate school and employment in the biotechnology industry. The curriculum also provides an excellent background for students planning careers in medicine. While rigorous, the undergraduate curriculum offers sufficient flexibility and course choices to allow students to tailor their education to particular career paths. Most students pursue undergraduate research in faculty laboratories. Some seek industrial experience through Rensselaer’s Cooperative Education Program, and the high degree of flexibility facilitates fitting a co-op experience into the degree program.

The master’s degree program prepares students for jobs in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and other related industry sectors and is well suited to students wishing to upgrade their skills while employed in industry. The program may also be attractive to students wishing to obtain an M.S. degree before proceeding to professional study in medicine, veterinary science, dentistry, etc. Those with a B.S. degree in a field not closely related to modern biological science who wish to enter into a doctoral program at Rensselaer or elsewhere may also benefit from the program.

The Ph.D. program in Biochemistry and Biophysics includes faculty from several departments in the Schools of Science and Engineering, interested in molecular-level life sciences, biochemistry, and biophysics. State-of-the-art research laboratories and core facilities in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies provide research opportunities for doctoral students in a wide range of topics.

Research Innovations and Initiatives

Biophysical research at Rensselaer includes the study of areas as diverse as  photosynthesis, bioenergetics of Na+ transport, myosin mechanics, microtubule-based motors, cellular bioengineering, and biofluid mechanics. A variety of approaches, including molecular modeling, spectroscopic probes, nuclear magnetic resonance, electron spin resonance, and molecular biology are being used to study protein structure. Biochemical research includes the application of chromatography to large-scale purification of biological macromolecules, biosensors, prebiotic chemistry, biochemical signaling, glycobiology, proteomics, DNA aptamers, rational protein design, and folding and stability of RNA and proteins.

Graduate Programs

Master’s Programs

Web Page: http://www.rpi.edu/dept/bcbp/graduate.html

Both the Master of Science and Master of Applied Science degrees are available within the Biochemistry and Biophysics program. Each requires a total of 30 credit hours.

For the Master of Science degree in Biochemistry and Biophysics, 15 credits must be in courses at the 6000–6999 level. In addition, six to nine credits must be in research. Students must either have had in their undergraduate study or must include in their M.S. Plan of Study three of the Molecular Biophysics Module courses listed above in the undergraduate curriculum, or their graduate equivalents. A thesis based on original work is required.

The Master of Applied Science degree program features the possibility of combining graduate level cooperative education participation, or equivalent industrial experience, with course work for the degree in Biochemistry and Biophysics.

Doctoral Program

Web Page: http://www.rpi.edu/dept/bcbp/graduate.html

In addition to satisfying Institute requirements for the Ph.D. degree, entering students must either complete the Molecular Biochemistry I course (BCBP 4760), or have had the equivalent as part of their previous education, and must complete graduate versions of three of the Molecular Biophysics Module courses listed above in the undergraduate curriculum. Additional courses may be chosen relevant to the area of specialization of each student’s research.  

The Doctor of Philosophy degree in Biochemistry and Biophysics (BCBP) requires a dissertation based on an original research project. Entering students must undertake two or three research rotations during the first year of study. These research rotations must be carried out with faculty members selected from the above list of participating faculty. The faculty members selected to direct these research rotations must be based in at least two different departments. After completing two or three research rotations, a thesis adviser must be chosen from the list of participating faculty by the end of the second semester. A seminar must be presented, and a candidacy exam completed, by the end of the second year of study. 

Course Descriptions

Courses of interest to Biochemistry and Biophysics students are described in the Course Description section of this catalog under the codes BIOL, BCBP, and CHEM. Course selections should be discussed with the student’s adviser.


The science and engineering faculty members of the Center for Biophysics listed below provide a variety of research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in the Biochemistry and Biophysics degree programs. Faculty members from the Biology and Chemistry Departments who are involved in the teaching of biochemistry and biophysics courses are designated with an asterisk (*).

Biology: B. Barquera, C. Bystroff, H. Ehrlich (Emeritus), S. Gilbert,* J.F. Koretz,* L. Ligon, G. Makhatadze,* R.E. Palazzo, D. Swank, C. Wang*

Biomedical Engineering: D. Vashishth

Chemistry and Chemical Biology: C.M. Breneman,  W. Colon,* J. Kempf,* K.V. Lakshmi, R.J. Linhardt, L. McGown, M.D. Platt, M. Wentland

Mathematical Sciences: M.H. Holmes, D. Isaacson, M. Zuker

Chemical and Biological Engineering: G. Belfort, C. H. Collins, S.M. Cramer, J.S. Dordick, S. Garde

Physics: A. Garcia, I. Wilke, X.-C. Zhang

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