Structural Molecular Biology (MSc)

Year of entry


Start date

October 2018


Distance learning


Fully Approved


Two years part-time


Six to 12 hours a week by distance learning, October to September

Our modular distance learning programme provides you with a grounding in the structure of proteins, and the main techniques that are used to study protein structure.

Structural biology allows you to understand how macromolecules work at the atomic level of detail. This is important, particularly in designing drugs that act at the molecular level to affect macromolecules.

Increasingly, research uses a range of complementary biophysical and structural techniques to study protein-protein interactions. This requires that researchers have some understanding of what all these techniques can achieve. This programme is designed to give the theoretical background required to use this range of methods.


  • In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), in a joint submission with UCL, Biological Sciences at Birkbeck were ranked 11th in the UK, with a research environment supporting world-leading and internationally excellent research.
  • Part of the Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology, a joint initiative with University College London.
  • Birkbeck houses state-of-the-art equipment for X-ray crystallography, cryo-electron microscopy and tomography and associated image processing. We have excellent facilities for UV and CD spectroscopy, calorimetry, fluorescence spectroscopy, ultracentrifugation, and protein expression and purification in the biochemical and molecular biology laboratories. We have a 158 processor cluster for intensive data processing. All areas have specialised computer equipment for data analysis, molecular graphics and molecular modelling and programming.

    Course structure

    You must successfully complete modules worth 180 credits. The programme consists of two Postgraduate Certificate programmes (worth 60 credits each) and two project modules worth 30 credits each. Each of the Postgraduate Certificates counts as a double module.

    You may choose which two double modules you wish to study, but we suggest you study Principles of Protein Structure first.

    • Principles of Protein Structure: introduces the structure of proteins and how that structure is related to both a protein’s sequence and its function.
    • Techniques in Structural Molecular Biology: gives a wide overview of the theoretical background of all the techniques commonly used in structural biology research. These include protein expression, purification and crystallisation, protein bioinformatics, X-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance and electron microscopy.
    • Protein Crystallography: a specialist course for students who are following, or who intend to follow, a career in this area. It is mainly non-mathematical and designed for the biologically-oriented crystallographer (or potential crystallographer). You will complete a computer-based exercise in solving a structure using the molecular replacement method.

    The projects consist of 30-credit dissertations tied to each of the modules chosen. They are based on literature analysis and use of web resources. Due to the distance learning element there are no wet practicals on this course.

    Module groups