Graphene condoms could be coming to a pharmacy aisle near you. Mirror reported that after scientists at the University of Manchester are submitted their proposal for a condom made of one of the world’s strongest materials, graphene, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded them a $100,000 grant to develop the new contraceptives. The idea is to create a condom that people will actually want to use.
“The one major drawback to more universal use of male condoms is the lack of perceived incentive for consistent use,” The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s recent challenge states. “The male perspective is that condoms decrease pleasure as compared to no condom, creating a trade-off that many men find unacceptable, particularly given that the decisions about use must be made just prior to intercourse.”
The foundation therefore asked, “Is it possible to develop a product without this stigma, or better, one that is felt to enhance pleasure?” And could a better condom lead to fewer unplanned pregnancies and help prevent infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where HIV/AIDS rates are highest in the world?
Graphene, once championed as the world’s strongest material until a substance called carbyne stole the coveted title earlier this year, is still considered the thinnest electronic substance ever created. It is made of a single layer of carbon atoms, and weighs almost nothing -- a square meter comes in at only .77 grams, according to Discovery. Its honeycomb structure makes it 200 times stronger than structural steel.
“It would take an elephant, balanced on a pencil, to break through a sheet of graphene the thickness of Saran Wrap," James Hone, a professor of engineering at Columbia University, said in a 2008 report. Graphene was first discovered nine years ago by Sir Andrew Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov, who received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010 for their “groundbreaking experiments” with the super-material.
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Researchers from the University of Manchester plan to mix graphene with latex to form a new composite material to make condoms.
"This composite material will be tailored to enhance the natural sensation during intercourse while using a condom, which should encourage and promote condom use,” Dr. Aravind Vijayaraghavan, a scientist at the University of Manchester and head of the newly established National Graphene Institute, said in a statement, according to The Telegraph. "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."
He added: “If this project is successful, we might have a use for graphene which will touch our everyday life in the most intimate way.”