George Osborne’s £50m grant for better condoms
The team behind the wonder material graphene – developed at the University of Manchester in 2004 – has just got a big new commission: making condoms.
Graphene is strong, light, nearly transparent, and an excellent conductor of heat and electricity, qualities that have got it dubbed a supermaterial and tipped for use in airplane wings, internet cables and foldable computers. Chancellor George Osborne is a vocal fan, putting £50m into the department making it in 2011 and trumpeting the superthin layers of carbon as a bright new hope for British industry.
But that’s not all graphene is good for … some of the team working on it at Manchester have just landed a deal to make condoms out of it.
The commission to revolutionise condoms comes from Bill Gates – or his foundation at least – which run a yearly round of Grand Challenges dishing out funding to ideas that can improve health in the developing world.
The Manchester project won in the Develop the Next Generation of Condoms section.
Condoms could be so much better, the GrandChallenge states:
Condoms have been in use for about 400 years yet they have undergone very little technological improvement in the past 50 years.
The primary improvement has been the use of latex as the primary material and quality control measures which allow for quality testing of each individual condom. Material science and our understanding of neurobiology has undergone revolutionary transformation in the last decade yet that knowledge has not been applied to improve the product attributes of one of the most ubiquitous and potentially underutilized products on earth. New concept designs with new materials can be prototyped and tested quickly.
The new condom needs to preserve or even enhance pleasure to win the funding.
We are looking for a Next Generation Condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure, in order to improve uptake and regular use. Additional concepts that might increase uptake include attributes that increase ease-of-use for male and female condoms, for example better packaging or designs that are easier to properly apply. In addition, attributes that address and overcome cultural barriers are also desired.
And that is just what the winning tax-payer-funded, entry from Manchester promises to do:
Aravind Vijayaraghavan and a team from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom propose to develop new elastic composite materials for condoms containing nanomaterials like graphene. This composite material will be tailored to enhance the natural sensation during intercourse while using a condom, which should encourage condom use.
We don’t know what George Osborne thinks about it yet.