Three Musketeers Win Texas Governor’s 2020 Volunteer Award

By Sanchali Basu

Houston: They call themselves The Three Masketeers. They are a teenage trio from Pearland, who have been recently awarded the prestigious Governor’s Volunteer Award for 2020. These high schoolers were killing time during the forced lockdown, somewhat dejected that their research presentations at the Texas Science and Engineering Fair had also been killed. But an idle mind is truly a devil’s workshop–the devil in this case being Bane. Inspired by the Bane mask from Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, these boys resiliently devoted their energies to a cause that would have made even Bruce Wayne proud. Spurred by a conversation overheard between his pediatrician mother and a patient about the lack of sophisticated protective equipment for vulnerable patients against the deadly Covid-19, Amar Sehgal (one of the Masketeers) teamed up with his buddies, Karthik and Praneel Bhagavatula, to apply their robotics experience towards designing and 3D printing unique prototype N95 masks. Recognizing that people will need masks for months to come, they put an innovative spin on the design such that the masks have a reusable base with disposable filters. They sourced filter material with a MERV rating of 13, conferring equivalent porosity to licensed N95 masks. The trio worked with Environmental Services within the Texas Medical Center to refine the mask design and ensure protective capacity against the SARS-CoV-2 viral particles.

Aided by a cool logo and a website that they designed themselves, they were able to distribute their masks to immunocompromised patients, first responders, healthcare workers and other vulnerable community members who needed more than a cloth cover or a shield for protection. The Masketeers networked with county officials and local charitable foundations to spread awareness. Flooded with requests, they had to prioritize distribution to the most vulnerable people, based on age and medical conditions. The team felt strongly that masks should be given for free and hence, declined lucrative partnership offers from for-profit organizations. Over the last eight months, more than 250 masks and 2000 filters have been distributed, each designed to protect a person for months. Not only have masks reached every corner of Texas but have also been shipped nationally and internationally. The team is now collaborating with other high schoolers from New York and California to teach them how to make these innovative masks.

The boys truly embody the team motto “all for one and one for all’ as we collectively fight the ravages of this pandemic. Their ‘out of the box’ exploits have been covered by the print and television media and they have been showered with accolades, including a Congressional Medal of Honor by Congressman Pete Olson. The latest feather in their cap is the Governor’s Award. In a virtual ceremony last week, First Lady Cecilia Abbott honored the team with the award in the under -18 Rising Star category.

Friends and family watched the ceremony with pride from United States and all the way from India. Houston thanks The Three Masketeers for their ingenuity and heartwarming community spirit.