The exemplary life’s work of each of this year’s four Crittenden County Distinguished Alumni inducted last month involves careers in justice, technology research, broadcasting and business. This year’s inductees Judge Jerry Brown and Dr. Andrew Mason exemplify the very best of ambition, drive and hard work. Posthumous inductees Bob Swisher and Juanita Burks each shared a lifetime of contributions already recorded in history. All were recognized at a private luncheon May 27 and again at commencement ceremonies at Rocket Arena.
Micro-sensor research brings Mason esteem
By ALLISON EVANS, THE CRITTENDEN PRESS
Many locals remember Andy Mason as a tackle on Crittenden County High School’s state championship football team in 1985. Others recall his successes as a debater on the school’s speech team and that he was valedictorian of the Class of 1987.
Mason grew up in Tolu with his parents, Jack and Debbye Mason, and attended Tolu Elementary School.
Almost 30 years after leaving for college, Dr. Mason is an accomplished Michigan State University research professor in the electrical and computer engineering department. On Friday, he will be recognized as a Crittenden County Distinguished Alumnus, largely for his contributions to the development of micro-sensor technology.
In addition to teaching, Mason’s research related to nano/micro-sensor technologies and their uses for biomedical and personal safety has resulted in numerous presentations at United States and European universities. Career funding for the Advanced MicroSystems and Circuits Laboratory he formed at Michigan State totals $14 million from sources such as the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Simply stated, Mason and a team of students under his leadership focus on miniaturization and automation of sensors – some as small as a pencil eraser – that can be used for biomedical and personal safety applications.
One of the biosensors Mason’s lab is working on today can detect the parasite that causes malaria.
“We currently have a hand-held prototype that plugs into any smartphone for field use, and we plan to further miniaturize the system to the size of a human thumb. The prototype is actually being tested in a South African country later this month,” Mason said.
His lab has also developed a wearable gas sensor that monitors a wide range of gases. It is specifically deployed at underground mines. However, the next generation of that sensor is being designed for health applications, particularly for children with asthma.
All of the projects he’s directing at Michigan State are designed to improve health, including the development of a new blood analysis system that could detect bacteria in a bedside application, which would avoid a two- or three-day wait for samples to be lab tested.
“We also work on implantable devices. Everyone is familiar with hearing aids and pacemakers, and some may be aware of deep brain stimulators (used to treat Parkinson's disease and essential tremors),” Mason said. “These are existing biomedical microsystems. We work on technologies that will enable the next generation biomedical microsystems that provide health care workers with more data about their patients or allow constant at-home monitoring of patients with critical needs.”
Teaching wasn’t always in Mason’s plan. His initial study of physics turned to engineering, and when he completed his master’s degree, Mason realized he wasn’t ready to stop learning.
“Somewhere within my 12 years in college, I decided to direct my career toward improving quality of life,” he said. “When I discovered I could apply my electrical engineering background to solve biomedical challenges, I knew I was on the right path.”
He gives credit to several Crittenden County teachers whose positive influence shaped his professional career, including the late Anna Hayes Sherer at Tolu Elementary, and Pat Sobolewski and Eric LaRue at the high school.
“Many others had a hand in helping me develop a passion for learning everything I can, but mostly I would give credit for this to my parents, who to this day continue to provide me with thought-provoking conversation,” he said.
Mason has been married for 24 years and has two teenage daughters.
He travels across the Atlantic Ocean to London a few times a year to support research collaborations he has developed while serving as a visiting professor at Imperial College. He is also the associate editor of a professional journal, has published more than 100 peer-review professional papers and supervised 31 graduate thesis projects for students in his department.
“As an engineering professor, my primary job responsibility is research, securing funding for and leading my research team,” Mason said. “Although teaching courses is a smaller part of my job, I do very much enjoy the opportunity to illuminate engineering principles and excite students about the potential their education provides."