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Thomas Joseph McKrell

Obituary for Thomas Joseph McKrell

November 28, 1969 - June 9, 2017
Lynnfield, Massachusetts | Age 47



LYNNFIELD - Thomas Joseph McKrell, Ph.D. , of Lynnfield, MA, died on June 9, 2017. He was 47.

Tom, as family, friends, and colleagues called him, was the youngest of five children born to Barbara and Richard McKrell. Inventive and independent, he had an inquiring mind and an eagerness to learn about people and the world around him. As a young student, he dedicated himself to his studies and to exploring the physical world. A natural athlete, he gravitated to sports and outdoor activities. He loved the ocean and anything related to the seashore: windsurfing, fishing, sailing, water skiing, and swimming. When not cracking the books, braving the waves, or working part-time at Friendly's, Tom could be found tinkering with cars, doing woodworking with his dad, tending to his chickens, collecting frogs, or playing hockey and baseball.

Tom completed his undergraduate work at the University of New Hampshire, majoring in mechanical engineering with minors in electrical engineering and materials science. He received an M.S. and Ph.D. in materials science from the University of Connecticut; his doctoral dissertation was titled Measurement of Instantaneous Dislocation Velocities in Iron Single Crystals at Low Temperatures ~4K.

After rich experiences in industry as a project manager and engineer focusing on the corrosion of metallic alloys used in nuclear and conventional power plants, Dr. Tom McKrell joined the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE) at MIT as a research scientist in 2006. At MIT, he became well-versed in thermal-hydraulics and was recognized as a technical leader in the area of heat transfer enhancement through the use of nanofluids. In 2011 he was appointed to the Editorial Board of the Journal of Nanofluids. Over the past ten years Tom emerged as a key contributor to a diverse range of subjects from the study of oxidation of Accident Tolerant Fuel (ATF) for nuclear reactors, to mitigation of tube fouling in geothermal power systems; from the probing of fundamental mechanisms in boiling heat transfer using advanced infra-red diagnostics, to the testing of cruciform rods for advanced nuclear power systems; from the measurement of optical properties in molten salts to be used in nuclear and solar applications, to the development of drag-reducing coatings for torpedoes.

At MIT Tom continues to be known by colleagues and students as a true experimentalist with a passion for scientific discovery through direct observation in the lab and for design and construction of experimental facilities. In the Thermal Hydraulics Lab (the Green Lab), he searched for optimal, innovative solutions with rigor and creativity, initiating dozens of graduate and undergraduate students into the joys and challenges of experimental work. One student recounted that Dr. McKrell's exceptional gift has been "…his enthusiasm in working and motivating students on their projects" focusing on both results and "the personal growth of the students working with him." Another of his students noted, "I have spent six years at MIT as an employee and student and have known no other research scientist to be as important and involved in student progress as Tom." Dr. McKrell transformed the Thermal Hydraulics Lab into a flexible multiuse tool. During his tenure as director, the lab supported as many as eight different experiments running simultaneously. He has been cited as the main reason for MIT's Nuclear Science and Engineering Department's development of a successful, new experimental research program in the fission area for the first time in decades.

The only domain which claimed more of Tom's heart and focused attention than colleagues and work was his family. While a master's student in the summer of 1994, Tom met Elizabeth Sarah Finn at the Daniel Packard Inn in Mystic, CT. They married on June 26, 1999 at St. Agnes Church in Middleton, MA. Over the past twenty-three years they have supported and loved each other through graduate school, job searches, the move to Boston, two houses, and health issues. They honeymooned in Ireland, bought street art in Spain, trekked to historical sites in England and France, scuba-dived in St. Martin and Turks and Caicos, hiked through hills in Costa Rica, and visited mosques in Turkey. They played pool, camped and biked on the Cape, hung out with friends, exercised together on weekend mornings, and were game for any ethnic food.

Their children, Grace and John, were born on April 26, 2005. A year later the growing family moved to Lynnfield. There Tom indulged in being a family man and with Elizabeth taught their children to value people, learning, hard work, good times, family, evidence, curiosity, inquiry, friendship. He led by principle and by example. They were a partnership, working together on being best friends, raising the kids, becoming part of the Lynnfield community, attending the children's school and sporting events, cultivating a circle of friends, and whipping an old house back into shape.

Jack-of-all-Trades, Tom was an expert at tuning up a tired Saab or Toyota, problem solving electrical glitches, and detecting and resolving plumbing problems. Both Grace and John spent numerous Saturday mornings assisting Dad in changing oil or switching out brakes, burning brush from a spring clean-up, calculating the load of a beam, or witnessing his counter installation. He had an uncanny ability to size up a mechanical system and figure out what made it tick. He could take a complex concept, translate it into plain English, and walk a scientifically-challenged soul from cluelessness to understanding.

Tom was a Trekkie and Star Wars zealot, watching and re-watching series and sequels with Elizabeth and the kids on Friday nights. He'd eat anything which listed sugar as the main ingredient. He never met an oyster he didn't love and enjoyed a cold brew outside by the firepit on summer nights. He delighted in bad puns of his own making and loved words. Though at home in a tailored suit, he favored plaid shirts with button-down collars and khakis for work. Summer Sunday afternoons would find him watching the Red Sox game. During vacations he made time for boating in Pawcatuck, jumping off the bridge with Grace and John in OB, swimming with the kids in the Bahamas, and windsurfing in Katama. Tom could immerse himself in the worlds of complex thought, kids' play, friendly banter, serious research, and goofy humor with ease, elegance, and grace.

Thomas Joseph McKrell was a gentle force. Courageous and graceful in facing hard truths and a brutal disease, he was a powerful teacher. He was a loving and loyal husband and dad; he was a devoted son, brother, colleague, mentor, and friend. Tom leaves his beloved wife, Elizabeth Sarah Finn, and beloved children, Grace Finn McKrell and John Finn McKrell, of Lynnfield, MA. Also his cherished parents Barbara and Richard McKrell of Pawcatuck, CT, sisters Sharon McKrell of Pawcatuck, CT, Judy Pomajevich and husband Gary of Manassas, VA, and Barbara Wanta and husband Michael of Pawcatuck, CT, brother Richard McKrell, Jr. of Pawcatuck, CT, nephews Peter, Sam, and Matthew Pomajevich, and nieces Christina and Meredith Wanta. Tom leaves the extended Finn family, colleagues from MIT, and dear friends.

ARRANGEMENTS: Family and friends will honor and remember Tom by gathering for calling hours in the Peterson-O'Donnell Funeral Home, 167 Maple St. (Rte 62), Danvers, on Wednesday, June 14th from 4 to 8 PM. Tom's funeral mass will be celebrated in St. Agnes Church, 22 Boston Road, Middleton, Thursday, June 15th at 11 AM. Burial will follow in Lynnfield. In place of flowers, memorial donations may be made to The Children's Fund, c/o The Savings Bank, 584 Main Street, Lynnfield, MA 01940. (For electronic purposes: routing number 211371366. For electronic and paper contributions, please include account #23384030 in memo line.)

Suggested Memorial Donations

  • The Children's Fund, c/o The Savings Bank, 584 Main Street, Lynnfield, MA 01940

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Arrangements By

Peterson-O'Donnell Funeral Home

Peterson-O'Donnell Funeral Home
167 Maple Street, Danvers, MA 01923
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