Undergraduate study - 2020 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2019/2020

BSc in Medicinal and Biological Chemistry

To give you an idea of what to expect from this programme, we publish the latest available information. This information is created when new programmes are established and is only updated periodically as programmes are formally reviewed. It is therefore only accurate on the date of last revision.
Awarding institution: The University of Edinburgh
Teaching institution: The University of Edinburgh
Programme accredited by: The BSc degrees are ‘recognised’ by the Royal Society of Chemistry and satisfy the academic requirements for Associate Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry (AMRSC).
Final award: BSc (Honours)
Programme title: Medicinal and Biological Chemistry
UCAS code: FC17
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s): Chemistry
Postholder with overall responsibility for QA: Dr A J Alexander
Date of production/revision: August 2011

External summary

Medicinal and Biological Chemistry is concerned with understanding biological mechanisms and processes at the level of the atoms and molecules involved, and applying this understanding along with the tools of synthetic chemistry and genetic manipulation to design and deliver pharmaceutical interventions. Students learn how breakthroughs in understanding of the molecular basis of diseases are being combined with cross-disciplinary advances in chemistry, biology and nanotechnology to generate new generations of innovative therapeutics.

The course teaches a thorough understanding of the structures, properties and syntheses (in the lab and in vivo) of the diverse range of molecules and macromolecules needed to build a living organism.  It provides understanding of how biological molecules cooperate in finely tuned networks and pathways or are organised into macromolecular complexes, membranes, organelles, cells and tissues.  

Building upon an initial solid foundation in chemistry and cell and molecular biology, the degree programmes provide the intellectual framework for understanding this topic from the fundamentals to the frontiers of current research. There is a strong focus on a wide range of analytical and experimental skills.  Insight into research is provided via final-year projects in research groups working at the cutting edge of the subject.

The majority of graduates will find careers in chemical, pharmaceutical and biotechnological companies, or in academia, education or consultancy. Alternatively they will utilise their broadly based numerical and analytical skills in other areas. All the courses include training and practice in communication skills, team working, and in the technology of scientific information retrieval and organisation.

Educational aims of programme

The BSc degree programme covers topics in all branches of the discipline from their fundamentals to the frontiers of modern chemical knowledge. In the early years, there is a flexible curriculum to suit personal interests, allowing courses in other sciences, arts or humanities to be combined with the core biology and chemistry content. Throughout, emphasis is placed on providing a broad and varied syllabus that not only reflects the multi-faceted nature of this science but also prepares students for future careers in industry, teaching or research. In the final year, direct experience of research is engendered by an in-depth individual research assignment. Alternatively, a final-year science education project and placement may be undertaken.

The aims of the degree programme are:

  • To kindle in students a sense of enthusiasm for the chemistry of life and its medicinal applications.To provide students with a skills base from which they can proceed to graduate employment or to further study.
  • To produce well-rounded graduates with both a thorough overall understanding of the chemistry of biomolecules, and a sense of moral and social responsibility in relation to the potential impact of this topic in clinical settings and on society in general.
  • To instil a profound understanding of chemistry, building on the fundamentals learned in early years of the course, in order to appreciate the limits of existing knowledge in selected medicinal and biological chemistry topics.
  • To provide experience of the practical skills appropriate at each level of the curriculum together with a thorough knowledge of “safe laboratory practice” and an appreciation of the crucial importance of safety in experimental work.
  • To develop transferable skills that maximise students’ prospects for future employment, including – writing and oral presentation skills, information technology skills, team-working, and numerical and logical problem-solving.
  • To develop mature and determined attitudes, including the capacity for self-organisation and time management, via independent project work.

Programme outcomes: Knowledge and understanding

  • The characteristic properties of elements and their compounds, including group relationships and trends within the Periodic Table.
  • The structural features of chemical elements and their compounds, including stereochemistry.
  • The synthesis and properties of inorganic compounds, inorganic complexes and organometallic compounds.
  • The nature and behaviour of functional groups in organic molecules and the properties of natural and synthetic aliphatic, aromatic and heterocyclic compounds.
  • Major synthetic pathways in organic chemistry, involving functional group interconversions and carbon-carbon and carbon-heteroatom bond formation.
  • The properties of molecules, including macromolecules, that occur in living systems.
  • The properties of natural and synthetic molecules, including macromolecules, of medicinal importance.
  • The mechanistic interpretation of chemical reactions; catalysis (both biological and synthetic); the kinetics of chemical change.
  • The characteristics of the different states of matter and the theories used to describe them.
  • The principles of quantum mechanics and their application to the description of the structure and properties of atoms and molecules.
  • The principles of thermodynamics and their applications to chemistry in vitro and in vivo.
  • The chemistry of materials and the relationship between bulk properties and the properties of individual atoms and molecules, including macromolecules.
  • The principal techniques of structural investigations, including spectrometry, spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction.
  • The principles and procedures used in chemical analysis and characterisation of molecules, including macromolecules.
  • The nature of biological structures from macromolecules to macromolecular complexes, organelles and cells.
  • The design and functions of pharmaceutical molecules in laboratory and clinical settings.
  • The uses of computational biology and bioinformatics in the study of medicinal and biological chemical systems.
  • The principles of operation of advanced spectroscopic and imaging techniques as applied to biological macromolecules.
  • Major aspects of chemical and biological terminology, nomenclature, conventions and units.
  • The design, engineering and production of pharmaceutical proteins and bioconjugates.
  • An awareness of major issues currently at the frontiers of medicinal and biological chemistry.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in research and enquiry

By engaging with and completing the BSc degree in Medicinal and Biological Chemistry the graduate is exposed to an internationally-renowned research school and undertakes an individual research project within a dynamic research group. In so doing, they develop:

  • The application of knowledge and understanding gained throughout the curriculum to the solution of qualitative and quantitative problems of a familiar and unfamiliar nature, both in science and in a wider context.
  • The ability to implement their scientific training to exercise rational enquiry and to compose pertinent research aims.
  • The capacity to execute practical investigations and evaluate and appraise results and findings (including the ability to select appropriate analytical techniques and procedures).
  • Skills in the synthesis, interpretation and evaluation of chemical information and data in terms of their significance and in their theoretical context.
  • The ability to conduct comprehensive literature reviews (using online journals, archives, etc) in order to contextualise their own research findings.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal and intellectual autonomy

The knowledge and understanding gained during the BSc degree, along with the emphasis that is placed on practical laboratory-based learning, results in a graduate that can demonstrate the ability to:

  • Adopt a flexible approach to reflect on different aspects of this broad science and the knowledge and skills that underpin all of them.
  • Understand and analyse critically different sets of data to reach well-considered, evidence-based conclusions, drawing on their own knowledge and experience.
  • Harness numerical, computational and experimental skills, which can be applied to problem-solving exercises relating to qualitative and quantitative information.
  • Display the confidence to work independently, taking responsibility for their own learning and committing to continual professional and personal development.
  • Transfer the knowledge and skills gained during their studies of medicinal and biological chemistry to other fields of science and beyond.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

By engaging and participating in the wide-ranging programme of study that includes small-group research investigations, presentation skills and report writing, a graduate of the BSc degree:

  • Is able to communicate effectively, demonstrating knowledge and understanding of essential concepts and theories, in writing and orally, to fellow students, researchers and academic staff..
  • Develops IT skills such as word-processing and structure drawing, data-logging and storage, in order to illustrate their arguments most effectively.
  • Creates experimental reports, scientific posters and dissertations in accordance with current conventions.
  • Demonstrates mature team-working skills, in order to produce well-balanced and well-substantiated solutions to scientific problems.
  • Seeks and values constructive feedback to further personal and professional development.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal effectiveness

In addition to the knowledge and understanding of the immediate degree discipline, the range of transferable skills developed during a BSc degree allows a graduate to:

  • Take responsibility for their own learning and prioritise effectively to complete tasks efficiently and safely.
  • Have the confidence to draw conclusions based on their knowledge and sound analysis.
  • Engage effectively with the vibrant and multi-national research environment to enhance their academic experience.
  • Develop an appreciation of the social, ethical and environmental implications of scientific research.
  • Show flexibility in responding to their environments by adapting appropriately to change.

Programme outcomes: Technical/practical skills

A core learning outcome of the BSc degree is to train a skilled and confident practical chemist. As such, a graduate is able to demonstrate:

  • A deep appreciation for the safe handling of chemical and biochemical materials, taking into account their biological, physical and chemical properties, including any specific hazards associated with their use.
  • The conduct of standard laboratory procedures involved in molecular biological, synthetic and analytical work.
  • Skills in the monitoring, by observation and measurement, of chemical, biological or medical properties, events or changes, and the systematic and reliable recording and documentation thereof.
  • The operation of standard chemical and biophysical instrumentation such as that used for structural investigations and separation.
  • The ability to conduct risk assessments concerning the use of chemical and biochemical substances and laboratory procedures.

Programme structure and features

Acquisition of knowledge and understanding is achieved mainly through lectures, laboratory classes and project work. Lectures are assessed via formal 'unseen' examinations. In all courses understanding is reinforced by small group tutorials and/or by problem solving workshops. Written communication, report writing and IT skills are developed via laboratory reports, posters, essays and project reports. Oral presentation skills are acquired via formal presentations. Practical skills and an awareness of the safety aspects of laboratory work and risk-assessment are developed progressively over the first three years of the course and through a research project in the final year.

The figures in parenthesis following the course names in the outline degree programme below are the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) credit level and credit points. Further information can be found at http://www.scqf.org.uk/. Normally courses totalling 120 credits are studied in each year with the level progressing year by year.

Year 1/2: Year 1 is evenly split between chemistry, maths and biology courses. In Year 2 Chemical Pharmacology is a core course and The Dynamic Cell, and Genes and Gene Action are strongly recommended in addition to the core chemistry course. Students with appropriate qualifications may enter directly into Year 2.

Year 3: Progression to BSc (Honours) in Year 4 requires an average Year 3 mark at Grade D (40%) or higher, including an average at Grade D (40%) or higher in the Year 3 written courses.

Year 4: In the final year of the BSc Honours degree in Medicinal and Biological Chemistry there are four core lecture courses and the project and transferable skills course.

Medicinal and Biological Chemistry (BSc), FC1J7

  Year Courses (credit points)
Entry point 1 1 Chemistry 1A (8,20), Chemistry1B (8,20), Maths (8,40), Origins and Diversity of Life 1 (8,20), Molecules, Genes and Cells 1 (8,20))
Entry point 2 2 Chemistry 2 (8,40), Chemical Pharmacology 2 (8, 40), The Dynamic Cell 2 (8, 20), Genes and Gene Action 2 (8, 20)
  3 Chemistry 3A (9,40), Chemistry 3B (9,40), Chemistry 3P (9,40)
  4

Synthetic Organic Chemistry (10,20), Chemical Biology (10,20), Medicinal Chemistry (10,20), Biophysical Chemistry (10,20), Research Project and Transferable Skills (10,40)*

*The Science Education Placement (10,40) course may be taken instead (subject to availability and selection by interview)

Teaching and learning methods and strategies

Teaching and Learning strategies employed at the University of Edinburgh consist of a variety of different methods appropriate to the programme aims. The graduate attributes listed above are met through a teaching and learning framework (detailed below) which is appropriate to the level and content of the course.

Teaching and Learning Activities

In Year 1

  • Lectures
  • Laboratories
  • Tutorials
  • Seminars
  • Problem based learning activities
  • Peer group learning
  • Examples Classes
  • Feedback sessions
  • Careers talks
  • Skills sessions
  • One to one meetings with personal tutors/directors of studies/supervisors

In Year 2

  • Lectures
  • Laboratories
  • Tutorials
  • Seminars
  • Problem based learning activities
  • Peer group learning
  • Examples Classes
  • Feedback sessions
  • Careers talks
  • Skills sessions
  • One to one meetings with personal tutors/directors of studies/supervisors

In Year 3

  • Lectures
  • Laboratories
  • Tutorials
  • Seminars
  • Problem based learning activities
  • Peer group learning
  • Examples Classes
  • Feedback sessions
  • Careers talks
  • Skills sessions
  • One to one meetings with personal tutors/directors of studies/supervisors

Year 4

  • Lectures
  • Laboratories
  • Tutorials
  • Seminars
  • Problem based learning activities
  • Peer group learning
  • Examples Classes
  • Feedback sessions
  • Careers talks
  • Skills sessions
  • One to one meetings with personal tutors/directors of studies/supervisors

Facilities

The School of Chemistry is equipped with a wide range of state of the art facilities and instrumentation.

The Universities of Edinburgh and St Andrews have formed EaStCHEM, the leading Chemistry research school in Scotland, and the largest in the UK. EaStCHEM researchers produced 75% of all world-leading outputs (4* maximum ranking) in Scotland. This level of excellence continues as indicated by recent awards for our researchers. EaStCHEM is also part of ScotCHEM, which strengthens links between the major Schools of Chemistry in Scottish Universities.

Teaching and learning workload

You will learn through a mixture of scheduled teaching and independent study. Some programmes also offer work placements.

At Edinburgh we use a range of teaching and learning methods including lectures, tutorials, practical laboratory sessions, technical workshops and studio critiques.

The typical workload for a student on this programme is outlined in the table below, however the actual time you spend on each type of activity will depend on what courses you choose to study.

The typical workload for a student on this programme for each year of study
Start yearTime in scheduled teaching (%)Time in independant study (%)Time on placement (%)
Year 135650
Year 234660
Year 343570
Year 435650

Assessment methods and strategies

Courses can be assessed by a diverse range of methods and often takes the form of formative work which provides the student with on-going feedback as well as summative assessment which is submitted for credit. 

In Year 1

  • Class tests
  • Online assignments
  • Laboratory reports
  • Multiple-choice tests
  • Written examinations

In Year 2

  • Class tests
  • Laboratory reports
  • Continual assessment
  • Essays
  • Written examinations

In Year 3

  • Class tests
  • Online assignments
  • Laboratory reports
  • Multiple-choice tests
  • Abstracting exercise
  • Problem-based learning
  • Oral presentations
  • Poster presentations
  • Written examinations

Year 4

  • Research Methods Exercise
  • Written exercises
  • Oral presentations
  • Literature survey
  • Literature précis
  • Personal attributes
  • Practical work
  • Reflective log
  • Project reports
  • Placement reports
  • Oral examination of placement report
  • Placement supervisor assessment
  • Written examinations

Assessment method balance

You will be assessed through a variety of methods. These might include written or practical exams or coursework such as essays, projects, group work or presentations.

The typical assessment methods for a student on this programme are outlined below, however the balance between written exams, practical exams and coursework will vary depending on what courses you choose to study.

The typical assessment methods for a student on this programme for each year of study
Start yearAssessment by written exams (%)Assessment by practical exams (%)Assessment by coursework (%)
Year 1651421
Year 2631522
Year 367249
Year 4661717

Career opportunities

Chemistry graduates from the University of Edinburgh are highly regarded by local and international employers. M any graduates move into careers in the oil, chemical or pharmaceutical industries, in sales and marketing or research and development roles. Some graduates choose further study, leading to an MSc, PhD or teaching qualification. The course also prepares you for a variety of other careers, including areas such as management, finance or IT.

Other items

Teaching in the School of Chemistry is carried out in a highly active research environment which has strong connections with the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. The chemistry courses include extensive experimental work carried out in modern laboratories (opened in 1999). The proportion of time spent at the bench increases as the course progresses and culminates in an extended research project in the final year. The high quality of research activity in the EaStCHEM research school (rated in the top 4 in the UK in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise) enables us to offer project work at the cutting edge of the subject across virtually all major areas of chemistry. Excellent IT facilities for undergraduates are provided throughout the university.

The high quality of teaching within the School of Chemistry has been recognised by the University student body – in 2011 the School was the recipient of the EUSA Teaching Award for Best Department. Advice and support, both academic and in all areas of student life, is available via Directors of Studies (DoS). The latter are staff members in the School of Chemistry who each look after the interests of a group of students. Each student is attached to a particular DoS, normally for the whole duration of their course, and will see him/her on a regular basis for advice about their course and as a first point of contact in relation to any problems which may arise.