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Former Professor, Department Head Kerlin Passes Away

Thomas Kerlin (MS/NE, ’59; PhD/Engr Sci, ’65), a pioneering student, dedicated professor, and respected authority in the nuclear engineering field, passed away from cancer on May 26, 2024.

Kerlin received the first nuclear engineering degree ever conferred by the University of Tennessee. He became a professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering for more than three decades and served eight years as the department head.

Ensuring Safety in the Nuclear Field

“Outside of my dad, Dr. Kerlin was one of the most influential people in my professional life,” said Hash Hashemian, who first met Kerlin while attending UT as a graduate student in the late 1970s. “Dr. Kerlin knew a lot about everything, and he was a fantastic professor. He was not an easy professor. He made us work, but I learned so much from him.”

Tom Kerlin.Kerlin and Hashemian conceived and co-founded Analysis and Measurement Services Corp. (AMS) in 1977. The Knoxville-based company provides technical testing of nuclear facilities’ safety and control systems. Kerlin sold his share in 1985, but the company has continued to thrive in the nuclear industry worldwide.

“He was the big brain, and I was the 24/7 worker,” Hashemian said. “He had an amazing impact on the company and continued to be a consultant even after he sold his share and became the department head. He was instrumental in helping us get it off the ground.”

An Innovative Career

During his leadership at UT, Kerlin and Tom Shannon initiated the Reliability and Maintainability Center, which contributes millions to the local community and provides hands-on learning for students and cutting-edge solutions to business partners.

Kerlin was inducted into the Nuclear Engineering Department’s Hall of Fame in 2019. He was the second recipient of the American Society of Engineering Education’s Glenn Murphy Award, which honors a nuclear engineering professor every year for excellence in education.

Kerlin’s research interests included reactor simulation and dynamic testing for model verification and instrumentation. He invented the method for in-situ response time testing for resistance thermometers used in pressurized water reactors.

Kerlin’s Legacy Lives On

Kerlin was a prolific writer and an avid storyteller. He authored several books, including co-authoring Dynamics and Control of Nuclear Reactors with Belle Upadhyaya, a professor emeritus in NE.

Upadhyaya joined Kerlin’s team at UT as a postdoctoral research associate and stayed on as a faculty member. Their connection lasted for nearly five decades until Kerlin’s passing.

“Tom was a great mentor and advisor. As one of the former students said, he had the talent of explaining complex concepts in a simple manner,” Upadhyaya said. “He was an inspiring teacher. His passing is a huge loss to the nuclear engineering community and to all of us.”

Wes Hines presents Tom Kerlin with Hall of Fame plaque.

Frank Johnson founded JMS Southeast Inc. in 1980 to make industrial temperature sensors. He was admittedly ignorant of how much technical knowledge he would need. He thought he may lose his house, which he put up for collateral, before taking a weeklong course co-taught by Kerlin.

“Tom’s teaching gave me confidence to become an expert in contact temperature measurement,” said Johnson, now the president of Statesville Process Instruments in North Carolina. “As JMS progressed, Tom helped us establish our credibility by presenting an abbreviated version of the course for many years in several locations. People attended from far and wide as he was the world-wide expert in temperature measurement.”

Throughout his time at UT, Kerlin would often accompany students and colleagues to conventions and meetings throughout the world. Along with his expertise in the subject matter being discussed, Kerlin was a restaurant aficionado.

“I don’t care where we were, the minute we got to a hotel he would always find the best place to go eat,” Hashemian said. “It could be a small town or a big city, he always knew the best place. He was a fun man to be with.”

As the entire Vol family mourns Kerlin’s death, what he accomplished at the university during his dedicated years of service won’t soon be forgotten.

“Tom’s legacy will live on through his former students, colleagues, friends, and family,” Upadhyaya said.


Rhiannon Potkey (865-974-0683,