Molecular Biology Specialization
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What is Molecular Biology?
A molecular description of cell function.

DNA, protein, carbohydrates and fats are part of our everyday language. To a scientist they are the macromolecules (large molecules) that determine some of our traits, give us the energy to move and think, and power the processes that allow us to function. Molecular Biologists ask "HOW". How does one tiny change in my DNA make my cells more susceptible to cancer? How is muscle turned to fat? How do my cells know when to release hormones? Molecular Biologists seek answers to questions like these by studying the structure, function and interaction of the macromolecules. Their goal is to provide a molecular description of cell function.

The answers to such questions lie at the intersection of Biology and Chemistry. In the scientific literature, interdisciplinary research efforts are common. In the classroom, biological topics are frequently addressed by chemists, and the chemistry of biological processes are often treated by biologists. The Molecular Biology specialization at Alverno is for students whose interests lie at the exciting interface of these two disciplines. These students earn a major in Biology and a support in Chemistry or a double major in Biology and Chemistry; for their electives within these majors, they focus on courses relevant to the field of Molecular Biology. Students in this specialization work closely with both the Biology and Chemistry faculty. They do at least one (and often times two) internships that combine both Biology and Chemistry laboratory techniques. They have access to the finest facilities in both the Biology and Chemistry departments. When they graduate they are prepared for a number of exciting opportunities.

Where can you work with a specialization in Molecular Biology?

Government agencies, industries, drug companies, universities or biotechnology companies.

Graduates with this interdisciplinary Biology and Chemistry training could be hired by government agencies (such as the Department of Agriculture, the National Institutes of Health or the Environmental Protection Agency) to do basic research in analyzing food, drugs, air, water, waste, or animal tissue. They could do similar research in universities. They could also be employed as researchers by industries that produce pharmaceuticals, agricultural chemicals, foods, feeds and consumer products. They could work outside the lab in marketing, management, science information, technical writing or editing. They could be employed by drug companies to research the causes of disease and to develop drugs to combat these diseases.

The Molecular Biology specialization also prepares students well to work in biotechnology companies. Biotechnology companies employ scientists in research, quality control, clinical research, manufacturing, and information systems with applications to the environment, energy, human health care, agriculture, and animal health. Biotechnology is a source of great promise for innovations ranging from improving the diagnosis and treatment of hereditary diseases to developing safer drugs, more environmentally friendly herbicides and pesticides, and microbial processes to clean up the environment. Most scientists in biotechnology work for small, innovative biotechnology companies that were founded relatively recently by scientists. However as the field develops, many major drug companies have added biotechnology divisions. Chemical companies with large agricultural chemical businesses also have substantial biotechnology labs.

Why study Molecular Biology at Alverno?

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology stated that scientists in the field of Molecular Biology must be “creative, imaginative, hardworking individuals who enjoy interacting with other scientists to discover applications for their work.” They must be “cooperative and able to work well with others. Oral and written communication skills are essential” as are “diversity and flexibility”. These are exactly the qualities that are developed through the science department and Alverno’s ability-based curriculum.

Creative, imaginative students at Alverno have the opportunity in many of their courses to be creative in designing experiments. In their introductory Biology course they work on a longer-term independent project in which they raise their own questions regarding a living system and design experiments to answer their questions. In Analytical Chemistry they design experiments to measure quantities of chemicals in household products. In Anatomy & Physiology they use state-of-the-art computer technology to conduct a physiology experiment which answers questions they create.

Able to work well with others. Through the psychology department, Alverno students learn how to use a task-oriented model for group work in their first year at Alverno. They get practice using the model in their science laboratories where they frequently work with partners or in small groups. In their Organic Chemistry course, for example, they work with a larger research team to develop and conduct a series of experiments in an attempt to support a mechanistic hypothesis.

Oral and written communication skills. Students have opportunities to develop both oral and written communication skills. They begin their work with these skills in an interdisciplinary integrated communication seminar. They then refine these skills in their science classes through panel presentations, poster sessions, lab reports, and research presentations – in all cases they receive feedback from science faculty who understand the requirements of scientific communication.

Diversity and flexibility. All students in this program will have the opportunity to do two Molecular Biology internships. Students work with their advisors to choose internship sites which will give them a diverse research background. Students further diversify their education by selecting a minor along with the courses in their Molecular Biology specialization. They may choose, for example, math, philosophy, computer studies, communication or business administration.

Some courses you will take:
Biology Chemistry Interdisciplinary
Microbiology Organic Chemistry Biochemistry
Animal or plant Biology Analytical Chemistry Molecular Biology
Cell Biology Inorganic Chemistry Senior Science Seminar
Genetics Spectroscopic Methods
Immunology Analytical Separation Techniques


To contact us, use the links on this page or call:
414-382-6203
FAX: 414-382-6354

Our "Snail Mail" address is:
Dept. of Chemistry
Alverno College
PO Box 343922
Milwaukee, WI 53234-3922


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Last update: 5/20/02 by Rebecca Burton, Dept. of Biology, Alverno College