"We hope to extend the lives of patients by saving heart tissue and brain tissue," says Merrill, 47, who leases a laboratory in the South Jersey Technology Center, a business incubator adjacent to Rowan's Glassboro campus.
The tech park, run by Rowan's College of Engineering and its Rohrer College of Business, opened in 2008.
So far it has launched such successful enterprises as Leadnomics, a Philadelphia online-marketing firm.
Merrill, a father of two who grew up in Margate and played football for Mainland Regional High School (Class of '83), earned a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Penn State.
He worked outside academia for 13 years and has two patents, one solo, one shared. The first involves a different mechanism for body cooling, and the second a method for handling brain cells during pharmaceutical tests.
Perry Weinstock, chief of cardiology at Cooper University Hospital, notes that "metabolic processes slow down when the body is cooled, and so does the damage. There is less swelling and less inflammation."
The technique is most effective when used in the first 24 hours, he adds.
Merrill, who joined Rowan in 2008, already was deep into his research career when he discovered that inventiveness runs in his family. A century ago and less than 10 miles away, in what is now West Deptford, his great-grandfather James E. Munyan devised an oil filter.
"This is his patent, dated Aug. 13, 1912," Merrill says, showing me the vintage, ornate, original pages from the U.S. Patent Office. "It cleaned oil. And it deals with fluid dynamics, just like my patents do. I love that."
He's inspired by this connection and also hopes to inspire Patel, who's 14 and lives in Mullica Hill.
"He doesn't have the training yet to make important contributions to the research or do experiments," Merrill notes. "But he has enthusiasm and a desire to learn basic laboratory skills, and we wanted to help him build those skills."
Patel's mother, Hetal, says her son has long been fascinated by science. She and her husband, Kaushik, own Dunkin' Donuts stores in Philadelphia and West Deptford, but back home in Gujarat, India, Kaushik Patel was a mechanical engineer.
The couple emigrated about 15 years ago, and Saurin was born in Rochester, N.Y.
"I wanted to work alongside a professional in a lab," says Saurin Patel, who, I'm not surprised to learn, was president of his eighth-grade class at Clearview Middle School.
About two or three weeks ago, he began e-mailing Rowan officials about his goal. When he was given Merrill's name, he began lobbying for what will be an unpaid, five-week gig.
"I kept e-mailing until he said yes," Patel says.
"I thought, 'OK, let's try this,' " says Merrill, who over the years has used Rowan students as interns but had never had a high school student helping out in his laboratory. He says he was swayed by Patel's persistence and sincerity.
"I'm not trying to get a patent or anything," says Patel, a budding engineer. "I just want to have a good learning experience."
Merrill knows a thing or two about persistence. He began working on the body-cooling device in 2004, in the basement of his home.
Pursuing an invention "is not always a happy story," he says. "There's a lot of sacrifice. We haven't been as successful as we would like to be at this stage. But we're still fighting, and being persistent.
"I think about famous quotes a lot, and there's one attributed to Louis Pasteur. Someone told him he was brilliant, and he said he wasn't brilliant. He said, 'I'm tenacious.'
"That's really the message I'm trying to give to Saurin, too," Merrill adds. "The idea of not giving up, of struggle. Struggle is valuable.
"And who knows where he'll be interning next? Maybe MIT."
To view video of Rowan engineer and inventor Tom Merrill in his lab, go to
Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.phillynews.com/blinq.