Men Behind the Masks

Gaurav “Gino” Giri and Bala Mulloth

Everyone is experiencing the changes and effects of COVID-19 at varying levels. This is true for Gaurav “Gino” Giri, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, and Bala Mulloth, Assistant Professor of Public Policy. These professors are co-founders of Hava, Inc., and received a $100,000 Jefferson Trust grant in January to recruit students across Grounds to aid in researching air-filtering technologies, partnering with stakeholders to study the impact of these technologies in the U.S. and several developing countries, and working with entrepreneurially minded students interested in bringing emerging research to market. Both professors hope students will develop hands-on, practical experience, while also increasing their critical and creative thinking skills.

Since March though, the nature of their project has changed and is growing increasingly timely and impactful. Mulloth shares that “we need a three-month runway before product is ready for market, but the need is immediate.” “Science labs are closed, and not having students on Grounds to help in research is a big disadvantage” admits Giri. But Giri has kept his lab in use, volunteering his lab space and time to test the filtration strength of homemade masks and N95-like masks, making sure these masks work to filter coronavirus particles at the appropriate level. The team is hoping that students can still help with market research and design concepts for masks and potential future wearable filtration items (i.e. a scarf). To meet needs more quickly, Giri and Mulloth are also exploring sub-licensing opportunities and other options with companies to get masks manufactured as efficiently as possible.

The initial motivation for establishing Hava was to create affordable air filtration products to make life in heavily polluted areas healthier for all, as the World Health Organization labeled air pollution “a silent public health emergency” in October 2018. However, through the coronavirus outbreak, both Mulloth and Giri see a long-term increased need for their air-filtering products that they initially didn’t expect.

With the help of Scott Gwilliam (Com ’91), Keith Woodard (Col ’71, Darden ’75), trustees and the project’s mentors, the team is contacting manufacturers about how to scale production and bring more masks to market. To stay up-to-date on Hava news, follow their website.