Campus Kindness: Alum produces protective equipment for health care workers

Warehouse man

Campus Kindness is a series of features on Rice Owls contributing to the fight against COVID-19. Read more here.

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Houston, Rice alumnus Roland von Kurnatowski ’02 knew he had the resources and knowledge to help health care workers protect themselves while fighting the deadly virus.

Roland von Kurnatowski HD
Roland von Kurnatowski

As president of TXRX Labs, a nonprofit makerspace that provides training in computer-aided manufacturing, von Kurnatowski led his team of engineers and scientists in developing personal protective equipment (PPE) that was tested by doctors and nurses and approved for medical use. TXRX Labs has produced 13,000 face masks, 20,000 face shields, 39 intubation enclosures, 37 testing hoods and 1,200 nasopharyngeal swabs and designed a powered air-purifying respirator and N95 respirator, which are pending certification.

Equipment has been donated or sold to medical facilities, such as Memorial Hermann, Ben Taub and First Texas hospitals, depending on their available budgets. The Wesley Community Center, the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation and other community organizations such as clinics, firefighters, schools and faith-based groups are among the recipients of donated PPE.

“If one expects front-line health care workers and first responders to be there to help us when we get sick or need other services, then it would seem incumbent on us to ensure they have the resources and protection they need,” said von Kurnatowski, who received a computer science degree from Rice.

“We have the capability to design, test, small-batch manufacture and then work with partners to get them to put the designs into mass production,” he said. “Given this ability, it would seem negligent if it was not used in assisting in any way possible with the current crisis.”

TXRX is now raising funds to offset the cost of producing PPE. So far, it has raised $400,000. It’s also looking for volunteers who can make masks at home with supplies provided by TXRX, and for volunteers who can use their own 3D printers to make parts for face shields.

“TXRX is committed to using our skills and talents to help protect first responders and medical professionals and many of Houston’s most vulnerable communities while working at the core of our mission of collaborative innovation,” von Kurnatowski said.