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MOAC and Chemistry

Chemistry can be defined as ‘the science of molecules’. A chemist’s view of biological systems is to see them from the perspective of the molecules of which they are composed. The chemistry side of MOAC is particularly focused on looking at how the structures of individual biomacromolecules (including proteins, nucleic acids and carbohydrates) and of assemblies of biomacromolecules with each other and small molecules are crucial to the way they function.

The key feature of the MOAC PhD programme is that we are aiming to create a group of scientists who understand the languages of chemistry, biology and mathematical sciences so that they can work across disciplines and collaborate with a wide range of different colleagues. To this end the first year of the MOAC PhD programme is a stand-alone MSc programme with modules taught by scientists from biological sciences, chemistry, mathematics, and physics and three mini-research projects in three different departments. Students are thoroughly exposed to molecular aspects of the biological sciences throughout their time with MOAC. Module 1 (Cellular Systems and Biomolecules) explores the underlying principles and properties of life. Teaching places an emphasis on understanding principles, providing students with the skills necessary to step into any research area within the biological sciences. Modules 2 and 3 revolve around biophysical chemistry techniques for studying biomacromolecules including spectroscopic and imaging methodologies in their widest definitions. Modules 4 (Modelling and simulation) and 6 (Numerical methods) provide students with basic mathematical and computational tools and Module 7 is a molecular modelling module where the underlying quantum mechanics is also considered. Module 5 (Statistics and Bioinformatics) introduces bioinformatics and is taught by staff from Warwick HRI. The biological relevance of taught material is highlighted throughout subsequent modules, culminating with module 8 (Networks and Pathways), which is taught jointly by staff from the Mathematics Institute and the Department of Biological Sciences.

If you are considering MOAC but are worried by your lack of biological knowledge, then don’t be. MOAC expects no prior biological knowledge from its students. The basics of biology are presented throughout the first year taught modules, with an emphasis on understanding, rather than factual knowledge. Similarly, the mathematics is taught in response to the students’ own background in the subject. Most teaching methods employed are highly interactive, allowing us to gauge what support each student requires, and enabling us to provide it. Proof of the success of such an approach is provided by the research undertaken by the current cohort of MOAC PhD students, none of whom had a biological background prior to taking the MOAC MSc. (MOAC PhD students.)

If you do have a degree in chemistry, you may be wondering what you would get from MOAC. Students with a chemical backgrounds enrolling on the MOAC MSc course will find the opportunity to enhance their existing skills, but also to extend them by applying them in an inter-disciplinary environment. The MOAC MSc will provide you with all the skills required to interface chemical research with that undertaken in biological and mathematical disciplines, and which will be highly beneficial for your subsequent career. Thus, you will be trained in the latest physical and chemical techniques, statistical methods with bioinformatics, and methods of computational and mathematical analysis. The skill sets that MOAC provide are highly desirable and under-represented in the current biological research environment.

All of the MOAC teaching staff from Chemistry have established inter-disciplinary research programmes, and are ideally placed to guide students wishing to enter an inter-disciplinary research arena. One of the major strengths of MOAC is the diversity of backgrounds that the MOAC staff possess.

MOAC director Alison Rodger is a biophysical chemist researching structure and mechanism of DNA-ligand systems, fibrous proteins and membrane proteins with an ultimate view to drug development and diagnosis. She is the course leader for module 2. Julie Macpherson, Patrick Unwin and Anna Whitworth teach much of module 3 and have an extensive research programme involving high resolution (electrochemical) imaging techniques to investigate interfacial chemical reactions. In particular the group’s research involves development of novel scanning probe and confocal techniques, applied to understanding chemical processes at the micro to nanoscale, including applications that lie at the boundary of life/medical and physical sciences. Peter Taylor and Mike Allen have extensive theoretical and computational research activities. They co-teach module 7. Claudia Blindauer, Stephen Brown, and Peter Derrick are also involved with MOAC seminars and mini-projects and some teaching. Other members of Chemistry have supervised mini-projects and PhD projects.

To ask about Chemistry in MOAC please contact the director Alison Rodger.