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Biochemistry, how much knowledge of Math is needed?

  1. Jun 16, 2008 #1
    Hi everyone,

    I will be pursuing a degree in biochemistry/biotechnology, and my question was exactly what or how much of mathematics would be important to understand fully most of the concepts coming from the chemistry courses that I will take? Most of my chem courses in upper years would biochemistry I, bioenergetics, organic synthesis I and II, and then some analytical chem courses if I choose to.

    Was wondering how much intensive math should I know to be able to understand the concepts fully or would basic trigonometry and even calculus be enough?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 17, 2008 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    Most likely it will depend on the curse and lecturer, so there is no one, simple answer to that question. OTOH I haven't seen someone who knows too much math :smile:
  4. Jun 17, 2008 #3
    If you are being required to take physical chemistry as part of your curriculum, then you will definitely need - at the very least - single-variable differential and integral calculus. If you are not being required to take physical chemistry, I would do so anyway and take the prerequisite mathematics coursework. It's an incredibly important and useful subject, and to call oneself a chemist of any sort, one should have a proper fundamental grounding in p.chem.
  5. Jun 17, 2008 #4
    Well no I am not required to take it but I have been having ideas of trying it out. Specifically because I tend to enjoy doing thermodynamics questions a lot for some odd reason.

    So in order to do well in the course I should have an understanding of single-variable differential and integral calculus. (Mike) Would you recommend that I actually take such mathematics courses or would it be better off to just study them on my own - because at my school those specific upper year math courses are not required but are recommended for better understanding.
  6. Jun 17, 2008 #5
    I forgot to ask this as well, but I was wondering if studying advanced Physics concepts, beyond Newtonian mechanics that is would be beneficial for someone in this field? Would they gain a lot more understanding or are the courses from the Chem department primarily built upon Physical concepts?

    Also if it would be beneficial, would it be possible to do this still without taking any courses, but rather studying the topics myself?
  7. Jun 17, 2008 #6
    I find it a little unusual that a biochemistry degree does not require a course in physical chemistry, but that may be an indication of my own observations and biases filtering through there. Single-variable calculus is typically a lower-division (non-majors) university course in mathematics from what I've seen, but again, may just be an indication of my own background there. (I was born and educated in the U.S., so these observations generally square with those of my classmates in grad school who came from all over the country.)

    It ultimately all depends on what you plan on doing in the future. You can have research that is quite technical/quantitative or research that is in the middle or research that is very qualitative. I would, in general, try to take the courses in order to have someone to talk to when confronting the material. Self-study can and does do wonders, but it really does help to have a helpful teaching assistant and/or professor to discuss things with, from the abstract to the detailed, especially when laying the foundation.
  8. Jun 17, 2008 #7
    Mike, it isn't exactly a Biochemistry degree, it is a Biotechnology degree although the courses are very similar to a Biochemistry degree with one or two exceptions such as the Physical Chemistry course there.

    Which is also the reason I was thinking of taking the course seeing as it is quite important and I find it interesting.
  9. Jun 17, 2008 #8
    Biochem courses generally try and keep the math quite light. Part of the reason why chemists often take a different quantum then physicists is because the chem version has a lot less math.
  10. Jun 17, 2008 #9
    BioCore - Ahh, OK then. Most biochem degree programs that I was familiar with basically tended to copy the core courses of the chemistry degree (single variable calc, introductory university-level physics, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry) and worked from there with the necessary biochemistry, biology, and so on. Biotechnology is another beast, though, not least because it can mean different things to different people. :) Everything from applications of molecular genetics to process-scale biochemistry to nearly anything you can imagine.

    If you find it interesting, you should definitely take the course, particularly if the teacher is a good one. I doubt you will ever look back and say that it was a bad choice of yours.
  11. Jun 17, 2008 #10


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    Staff: Mentor

    We, chemists, tend to be mathematically challenged. That's sad true.
  12. Jun 18, 2008 #11
    I think it would do a world of good for the whole field if biologists and chemists learned advanced math.

    On the other hand, it may not do *you* any good to learn advanced math, as a student trying to pass classes that don't use it.
  13. Jun 19, 2008 #12
    Of course "advanced math" is always relative in it's usage. I often see stochastic differential equations when I try to read biochemisty papers. This is certainly just a function of my own background and interests though. Most biochemists aren't interested in such things.

    Also, are stochastic differential equations advanced mathematics? I think so. Rarely are there undergraduate courses that cover them. At the same time, I'm sure many mathematicians would consider everything that biochemists use to be elementary.
  14. Jun 19, 2008 #13
    Biochem and organic chemistry won't really be using math, except maybe basic calculus to describe reaction rates. You would need math more for the purer chemistry courses you might have to take. You should probably know single and multivariable calculus. A term of linear algebra and differential equations would be good too, when you come into contact with quantum chemistry. Thats about it.
  15. Jun 19, 2008 #14
    I'd say SDE's (Stochastic DE's) are advanced math. They're also a sort of 'niche' math since it only really comes up certain places (financial math for example uses them extensively) but I wouldn't think even a standard grad student in math would necessarily cross paths with them.
  16. Jun 22, 2008 #15
    does your degree make u take multivariable calculus, linear algebra, and DE? If not, then biochem will require little math. know logarithims for hendersen hasselbalch eqtn. know basic artihmetic for michaelsen-menten kinetics. other than that...i dont think anything else is needed. main point:math is the least of your worries!
  17. Jan 7, 2009 #16
    all i have to see now is to ask question about medical biochemistry,please i want to know how different is it from biochemistry itself.
  18. Jan 7, 2009 #17
    being in pharmacy, i sort of have a biochem program going for me.

    what is essential is basically first year calc. what is reccommended is all of 2nd year math. that includes multivariable calculus, linear algebra, and if you want differential equations. but multivariable should suffice.

    if you want to understand what enthalpy and other state functions really mean you'll need multivariable. not to mention you will be able to pick up quanum mechanics books in the summer and get through them. in conclusion, single and multivariable should be all the math you ever need.

    my pchem teacher was an insane mathematician. he did his undergrad in mit in pure math.
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