Somerville has been at the cutting edge of Biochemistry for almost a century.

For decades, the college was the home of the only British woman to win the Nobel Prize in Science, Dorothy Hodgkin, who first studied and then taught here as a Tutorial Fellow. The combination of inspiring teaching and generous support that helped her to succeed is still helping talented biochemists fulfil their potential at Somerville today.

Biochemistry is a really exciting subject to study at Oxford because the course maintains breadth without sacrificing any depth, enabling you to focus on the areas that are of particular interest to you.

David Aitken (2018, Biochemistry)

Teaching and learning

At Somerville, you will study with Professor Elena Seiradake, our Tutorial Fellow in Biochemistry, whose ground-breaking research focuses on the structure and function of cell surface receptors in neural and vascular development. Her recent breakthroughs have involved the chemistry of the human brain during the early stages of development. You will also be taught by our Lecturer Dr Kamel el Omari, one of the UK’s top experts in advance protein crystallography phasing methods and virology.  

The first three years of the Biochemistry course a stimulating mixture of tutorials, practicals and lectures, typically comprising ten lectures and two tutorials or classes per week, as well as workshops organised by the Biochemistry Department. The second and third years of the course explore the biochemistry of living systems and include detailed study of genetics, immunology and developmental biology. Students are introduced to a variety of experimental techniques and are encouraged to read original research publications. 

In the final year of the course, you will undertake a project in a wetlab or computer lab. By this point, you will be a skilled researcher – a significant proportion of fourth year students have even been able to publish the results of their research in academic journals and to present their findings at international conferences.

Somerville biochemists benefit from being close to the University’s main science campus, with labs just a 10 minute walk or a quick cycle ride away. Our library is also excellent, so much of your work can be done without having to leave college. 


We typically admit four or five undergraduates to read biochemistry each year, who typically support each other in their studies and work as a team. Our biochemists, chemists and pre-clinical medics form a large and supportive community at the college.

Somerville’s greatest biochemistry alumna is Dorothy Hodgkin, the pioneering crystallographer who discovered the structures of penicillin, vitamin B12 and insulin. The crystallographers Jenny Pickworth Glusker, Pauline Harrison, Judith Howard and Barbara Low also studied or taught at Somerville. Rita Harradence, the Australian biochemist who synthesised pencillamine, is also a Somerville alumna.

Next Steps

Over the past few years, many Somerville undergraduates have continued to graduate study in biochemistry or related disciplines, whilst others have embarked successfully on careers in commerce, consulting finance and law.

For more information, you can consult the University’s course listing for undergraduate biochemistry. We also welcome prospective students applying for graduate research courses.

Fellows and Lecturers
  • Kamel El Omari

    Senior Beamline Scientist at Diamond Light Source; Lecturer in Biochemistry
  • Naomi Petela

    Stipendiary Lecturer
  • Elena Seiradake

    Fellow & Tutor in Biochemistry; Professor in Molecular Biology
Where Next?