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His research encompasses synthetic bioinorganic and organometallic/polymer chemistry. His work aims to gain a fundamental structural, spectroscopic, and mechanistic understanding of metalloprotein active sites of biological and environmental importance via the synthesis, characterization, and examination of the reactivity of model complexes. Key advances have been made in understanding copper protein active sites through his studies of the reactions of copper(I) complexes with dioxygen and of the properties of copper–sulfur complexes. The goal of his research in the organometallic/polymer area is to synthesize and characterize a variety of metal complexes for use as catalysts for the polymerization of cyclic esters.
Tolamn is the Distinguished McKnight University Professor at the University of Minnesota. He is a member of the Centers for Metals in Biocatalysis and Sustainable Polymers and currently is serving as Chair of the Department of Chemistry.
His honors include the Searle Scholars, NSF National Young Investigator, Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation Teacher–Scholar, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Awards, the Buck-Whitney Medal from the American Chemical Society, and a Research Award from the Humboldt Foundation. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society.