This past May, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation lamented that the condom, one of the most simple tools ever devised to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, hasn't really been improved upon in five decades. The condom we all know and
love tolerate is in dire need of a tuneup.
With that in mind, the Gates Foundation decided to issue a condom challenge. As part of round 11 of its "Grand Challenges Explorations" initiative, the charitable organization decided to award a series of grants to help scientists develop a better condom - one that "significantly preserves or enhances pleasure, in order to improve uptake and regular use."
Now, with the help of a $100,000 grant, scientists in the UK are working to develop a next-gen condom that's thinner, stronger, and will hopefully provide people with a stronger incentive to wrap it up.
And to achieve this goal, scientists at The University of Manchester are turning to graphene.
Graphene, a one-atom thick layer of the mineral graphite, was first isolated in 2004 and is one of the strongest and lightest materials in the world. Its use in composite materials ranges from automobile construction to computer chips, and from Kevlar vests to smartphones. Soon, it may find a place in your condoms.
These next-gen condoms would be made of a composite material, consisting of a mixture of graphene and latex or another sort of elastic poylmer.
“This composite material will be tailored to enhance the natural sensation during intercourse while using a condom, which should encourage and promote condom use. This will be achieved by combining the strength of graphene with the elasticity of latex, to produce a new material which can be thinner, stronger, more stretchy, safer and, perhaps most importantly, more pleasurable,” says Dr. Aravind Vijayaraghavan, who heads the research at The University of Manchester's new National Graphene Institute.
Dr. Vijayaraghavan and his team are receiving one of a handful of grants just announced by The Gates Foundation to help increase and promote condom use around the world.
"Quite simply, condoms save lives but new thinking is needed to ensure that men and women around the world are using them consistently and correctly to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. These projects are working to improve uptake and regular use of male and female condoms by developing new condoms that significantly preserve or enhance pleasure and by developing better packaging or designs that are easier to properly use," said the foundation in a release.
Another interesting project now supported by The Gates Foundation is the Rapidom, a new condom applicator that supposedly provides a simple, one-motion application that should "minimize interruption."
But without a condom that people actually want to use, an applicator won't get much use.
“If this project is successful, we might have a use for graphene which will literally touch our every-day life in the most intimate way," says Vijayaraghavan.