Biochemistry makes big impact by exploring the smallest of things

Through its 70-year history, the Department of Biochemistry has dedicated itself to operating at the inflection point of chemical and physical sciences with physiological, genetic, and biological sciences. The result? A better understanding of biological events at the molecular level.

1952: It all Starts with Engel
Through the leadership of Harold Young, then director of the Agricultural Experiment Station, the Department of Biochemistry and Nutrition was established. In 1952, he recruited Ruben "Charlie" Engel from Auburn University to lead the new department.

1953—1969: The Initial Years
When the building was occupied, additions to the faculty broadened the research expertise of the department. The department developed the biochemistry undergraduate major program, which was housed in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Agriculture.

1970—1989: The Second Generation
In 1970, the department reached a transitional point with the hiring of Bruce Anderson as department head. A new generation of faculty hires joined the department over the next 20 years that shifted the department’s research portfolio away from analytical and nutritional biochemistry and toward areas such as enzymology and molecular biology. The biochemistry building was renamed “Engel Hall” in 1988 in honor of Engel’s many contributions.

1990—1997: Undergraduate Excellence
Under William "Bill" Newton's leadership, faculty were merged between the Department of Biochemistry and Nutrition and the Laboratory of Anaerobic Microbiology, resulting in the present Department of Biochemistry. In 1994, the department was recognized as a University Exemplary Department for its outstanding research programs.

1998—2004: Partnership with Fralin
The Fralin Life Biotechnology Center, now known as the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, served as a source of space and funds to develop new research initiatives for the Department of Biochemistry. Collectively, the department's faculty employed the broad spectrum of research tools to explore how organisms function and to assess unique attributes.

2005—2011: New Research Initiatives
Supportive faculty clusters were created to allow for growth in the new research funding climate. Under Peter Kennelly's leadership, the department recruited and expanded the development of the vector-borne disease research program and initiated new focuses in drug discovery and protein structure, function, and regulation.

2012—2019: Building Community
The expansion of the biochemistry undergraduate program resulted in the hiring of new faculty and the department saw a doubling in the graduate program. The department's commitment to research and inclusivity expanded with the creation of EngelPalooza, a biochemistry research showcase for students, funded by a grant through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 2019.

2020—present: Resiliency
To better serve all majors in biochemistry, the department became housed in a single academic unit within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The renovation of facilities in Engel Hall, along with the acquisition of space in Steger Hall, has resulted in an expanded research footprint of the department.