Making What Matters

Alumnus-led makerspace creates, sells and donates protective equipment to workers on the front lines.

Roland von Kurnatowski ’04 (center) distributes PPE to Memorial Hermann hospital. Photo courtesy of TXRX Labs

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Houston, Roland von Kurnatowski ’04 knew he had the resources and knowledge to help health care workers protect themselves while fighting the deadly virus.

As president of TXRX Labs, a Houston 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. As of early May, TXRX had produced 20,300 face masks, 28,755 face shields, 40 intubation enclosures, 37 testing hoods and 1,200 nasopharyngeal swabs. TXRX also designed a powered air-purifying respirator and N95 respirator, which are pending certification.

Since beginning production March 22, TXRX has sold equipment to Houston medical facilities, such as Memorial Hermann, Ben Taub and First Texas hospitals, as well as more than 30 other hospitals and clinics across the country. TXRX has also donated PPE to many local community organizations including the Wesley Community Center, the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation and multiple libraries, firefighters, schools and faith-based groups.

“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.”

The program is currently raising funds to offset the cost of producing PPE. So far, it has raised more than $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 using the specifications available on TXRX’s website.

“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. For more information about TXRX and their PPE production program, visit their website.

“Tiny Acts of Kindness,” a project from Rice’s Office of Public Affairs, features stories about Rice Owls responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in kind, creative and effective ways. Read the Rice Magazine series here.

David Medina, ’83, Rice Magazine