Tolman to lead Department of Chemistry into new era

Leading in difficult times


When University of Minnesota chemistry professor William Tolman was named chair of the Department of Chemistry earlier this year in the Institute of Technology, he knew that it was a time of unprecedented budget constraints for the University. That might have dissuaded some from applying to lead a department that holds a key role in the future of the University, but Tolman feels the Department of Chemistry's strengths can pave the way for future success.

"I am excited about leading renewed efforts to stimulate research, improve our teaching, and boost our national and international reputation."

"We have some of the best and brightest current and future chemists in the world right here at the University of Minnesota who will play a vital role in solving some of our country's greatest challenges in the environment, energy, and medicine," Tolman said. "While we face many challenges, this is also a time of great opportunity to achieve our goals by setting priorities, streamlining processes, and improving efficiencies in resources."

Some of Tolman's priorities include:

  • Recruiting and retaining quality faculty to improve education and grow the department's research portfolio;
  • Securing support for graduate and undergraduate students to offset increasing tuition costs; and
  • Improving research productivity across campus by updating equipment shared by many departments.


"I am excited about leading renewed efforts to stimulate research, improve our teaching, and boost our national and international reputation," Tolman said. "Our overarching goal must continue to be to improve the quality of our activities through consistent, cooperative, and focused effort."

Leadership profile

A faculty member at the University since 1990, Tolman is a renowned synthetic chemist whose work straddles the traditional boundaries separating chemistry's inorganic, biological, and organic specialty areas. Tolman's current research, funded primarily by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, focuses on using synthetic chemistry to understand copper sites in enzymes and new ways to develop biorenewable sources to replace petroleum-based plastics. Tolman is a researcher in the Department of Chemistry's Center for Metals in Biocatalysis and the department's new Center for Sustainable Polymers.


Tolman has received numerous honors and awards including a University of Minnesota Distinguished McKnight University Professorship, an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship, and a Humboldt Foundation Research Award. In 2006, he was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Tolman has given nearly 200 lectures on his research around the world. He has published more than 150 journal articles or book chapters and also holds a patent related to polymer synthesis from macrocycles.

Tolman received his bachelor's degree in chemistry from Wesleyan University in 1983 and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1987. Tolman also served as a postdoctoral fellow at MIT from 1987 to 1990.

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October 29, 2009