Graphene is incredibly thin and light, and prevents all but the smallest molecules from passing through it (it’s an excellent water filter, for example). Condoms, though an excellent barrier against unwanted contaminants, are neither thin nor light — which is why they reduce sensation, and why some people really don’t like wearing them. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, realizing the world would be a better place if more people liked wearing condoms, has thus decided to fund research into thin, pleasure-enhancing graphene condoms.
Graphene, as you know, is incredibly thin and strong — but you might not know that it also happens to be the most thermally conductive solid material in the world (only superfluid helium has better conductivity). Furthermore, graphene seems to be impermeable to everything but water. All of these factors combine to make graphene the perfect material for condoms that are incredibly safe, and yet so thin, light, and thermally conductive that it’s almost like you’re not wearing a condom at all.
Of course, in reality, it’s not actually feasible to create condoms from pure graphene. Pure graphene is transparent and just one atom thick — not exactly ideal properties for a condom that needs to be slipped on in the heat of passion. Rather, the National Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester has been awarded a $ 100,000 grant by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop composite materials that can be fashioned into condoms that are more desirable than today’s range of thick and sensation-free latex and polyurethane condoms. The University of Manchester in England is where graphene was first isolated, using the famous “mechanical exfoliation… with sticky tape!” method.
Historically, when we speak about graphene, it’s nearly always been in the context of electronics. Given its superior electrical conductivity (the best in the world), thinness (sheets that are just a single atom thick), and other exotic properties, graphene could revolutionize the fabrication of computer chips and other electronic components. As we hinted at earlier in the story, though, graphene’s properties also make it an exceptionally strong candidate for other applications, such as water filtration and anti-corrosion coatings. On the small scale, graphene composites can be used to make condoms — but on the larger scale, graphene and graphene composites might allow for the creation of crazy, gravity-defying buildings or vehicles that weigh just a fraction of their current steel-and-aluminium incarnations. ”If this project is successful, we might have [an everyday] use which will literally touch our everyday life in the most intimate way,” says Aravind Vijayaraghavan who will lead the Manchester researchers.
There’s no timeline on the creation of graphene condoms, but it’ll be at least a few years. The Gates Foundation awarded grants of $ 100,000 to 11 condom research groups in total, including the Rapidom (pictured above) — a condom that can be applied in a single action (the wrapper acts as easy-hold grips) — and a San Diego team that’s working on a condom that’s imbued with collagen fibrils, harvested from cow tendons, for a “more natural sensation.” The end goal, of course, is to offer the world a more desirable tool for reducing the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases, or for family planning reasons.
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