Tag Archives: Grand Challenges Explorations grant

Graphene and your sex life

This is a first, as far as I know, for graphene, which is usually discussed in the context of electronics. A research team at the University of Manchester (where it was first isolated by Andre Gerim and Kostya Novoselov in 2004) has won a research grant to develop condoms made of graphere, from the Nov. 22, 2013 news item on Azonano,

Wonder material graphene faces its stiffest challenge yet – providing thinner, stronger, safer and more desirable condoms.

Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan and his team from The University of Manchester have received a Grand Challenges Explorations grant of $100,000 (£62,123) from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop new composite nano-materials for next-generation condoms, containing graphene.

Dr Vijayaraghavan took on a challenge that had been presented to inventors around the world– to develop new technology that would make the condom more desirable for use, which could lead to an increase in condom use.

Here’s how the challenge was presented in March 2013 (from the Develop the Next Generation of Condom challenge webpage on the Grand Challenges (the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) website,

Male condoms are cheap, easy to manufacture, easy to distribute, and available globally, including in resource poor settings, through numerous well developed distribution channels.  The current rate of global production is 15 billion units/year with an estimated 750 million users and a steadily growing market. …

The one major drawback to more universal use of male condoms is the lack of perceived incentive for consistent use. The primary drawback from 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. …

Likewise, female condoms can be an effective method for prevention of unplanned pregnancy or HIV infection, but suffer from some of the same liabilities as male condoms, require proper insertion training and are substantially more expensive than their male counterparts. …

The Challenge: 

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.  Large-scale human clinical trials are not required. Manufacturing capacity, marketing, and distribution channels are already in place.

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.  Proposals must (i) have a testable hypothesis, (ii) include an associated plan for how the idea would be tested or validated, and (iii) yield interpretable and unambiguous data in Phase I, in order to be considered for Phase II funding.

A few examples of work that would be considered for funding:

  • Application of safe new materials that may preserve or enhance sensation;
  • Development and testing of new condom shapes/designs that may provide an improved user experience;
  • Application of knowledge from other fields (e.g. neurobiology, vascular biology) to new strategies for improving condom desirability.

The project’s team leader, Dr Vijayaraghavan had a few things to say about the possibilities for this composite material (graphene and latex) they are hoping to develop (from the Nov. 21, 2013 University of Manchester news release, which originated the news item on Azonano),

Dr Vijayaraghavan said: “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.”

He also comments on the impact of this project: “Since its isolation in 2004, people have wondered when graphene will be used in our daily life. Currently, people imagine using graphene in mobile-phone screens, food packaging, chemical sensors, etc.

“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.”

I wonder who will be testing these condoms when the time comes.

For anyone who wants to know more about the graphene story, there are these postings (excerpted from my Jan. 3, 2012 posting about their then newly acquired knighthoods): regarding Geim and Novoselov’s work and their Nobel prizes, “my Oct. 7, 2010 posting, which also features a video of a levitating frog (one of Geim’s favourite science stunts) and my Nov. 26, 2010 posting features a video demonstrating how you can make your own graphene sheets.”

One final note, I posted about the Canadian Grand Challenges funding (not be contused with the US-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation programme) in this Nov. 21, 2013 posting.