A group of students at Vanderbilt University developed a covid-fighting phone case that can help keep the coronavirus disease from living on your phone. The anti-pathogenic phone case, called Aeris, is made from copper which acts to naturally deter pathogens like the coronavirus. We interviewed one of its creators, Nick O’Brien of Vanderbilt University, to further discuss the impact that this product might have in combating the spread of the disease.
Grit Daily: You’ve had a few inventions before the anti-pathogenic phone case. Share those.
Nick O’Brien: I’ve always had a passion for entrepreneurship. Our first “invention” together was introducing running water to dorm rooms at Vanderbilt. We rented high-end water dispensers and delivered 5-gallon water jugs to keep them stocked. It was a service that I had wished for from the moment I arrived on campus and eventually had the opportunity to create. We sold that business in March and immediately started exploring new ideas. After two of us recovered from COVID-19, our attention shifted to finding a way we could join the fight. The desire to help drove us to connect an underutilized anti-pathogenic agent — copper — with a universal human touchpoint — smartphones.
GD: What’s behind the Aeris name?
NO: The name game is an exciting part of the early days of any startup. We knew we wanted something memorable and that gave us room to grow, and we knew that it needed to be copper-themed. Names like “CopperCase” and “Cu-“ puns all seemed too cheesy and short-lived. We needed something more timeless. So we looked to an ancient language from an era when copper’s properties were widely known and respected: “Aeris” is a latin form of “copper” — and it immediately stuck. The Ancient Romans, Egyptians, and Aztecs all used copper to purify their water systems, well before modern technology could determine how and why it is so effective. During a 19th-century cholera outbreak in France, the only people who escaped the disease were copper mine workers, and it was from this discovery that the modern understanding of copper can be traced. We know now that copper is effective due to its unique ionization properties. Yet, with all of this information, copper is still massively underutilized on a global scale.
GD: For the uninitiated, what is “copper alloy?”
NO: Copper alloy is a metallic cocktail with copper as the main ingredient. There are virtually infinite combinations of metals, each with its own unique character. While pure copper is highly antimicrobial, it is prone to quick oxidation and could potentially block phone signals. We had to design an alloy that was as antimicrobial and antiviral as copper, compatible with phones, was resistant to wear, and had aesthetic appeal. Our choice of mixture uses 70%+ copper, which is ideal for killing germs, as well as a few other minerals that make it less vulnerable to oxidation and give it an attractive golden hue.
GD: To whom are you sending the first batches of product?
NO: Our first batches of product will go to frontline medical workers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center through our 1:1 program. We chose to do one-to-one case donations because we believe in our product and want medical workers to benefit from an extra layer of protection. For example, a recent study found that 75% of computer mice in hospitals possess live SARS-CoV-2 droplets. The second batch will go to our generous Indiegogo backers who made all of this possible. From there, we will be expanding into New York City hospitals and continuing to ship cases via our ecommerce website. This will all be commencing in late May. We can’t wait!
GD: How can people get involved?
NO: The best way to get involved is by supporting us on Indiegogo or sharing our mission with friends and family. After that, we’ll be sharing a ton of information on our website and social platforms. Even if you don’t want a case for yourself, we offer direct case donations to frontline workers. If you or someone you know could benefit from having one of our cases, let us know. We’ve already promised to send cases to several healthcare workers who have reached out to us directly. In addition, feel free to do your own research on the natural properties of copper. We were amazed by how much we found, and the more awareness we can create, the safer the future will be.