Wonder material graphene faces its stiffest challenge yet in providing thinner, stronger, safer and more desirable condoms.
A research team from The University of Manchester has received a Grand Challenges Explorations grant of 100,000 US dollars (£62,123) from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop new composite nano-materials for next-generation condoms.
The challenge is to develop new technology that can make the condom more desirable for use, which could lead to an increase in its use.
Composite materials are composed of a mixture of two materials, in this case graphene mixed with an elastic polymer such as latex used in traditional condoms.
Graphene is the world's thinnest, strongest and most conductive material, and promises a vast range of diverse applications from smartphones and ultrafast broadband to computer chips.
It was first isolated by Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov at The University of Manchester in 2004 and has since earned the two scientists the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010.
The research will be carried out under the leadership of Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan at the newly established National Graphene Institute at Manchester.
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 continued: "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 and chemical sensors.
"If this project is successful, we might have a use for graphene which will literally touch our everyday life in the most intimate way."
Dr Helen Meese, head of materials at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: "The potential of graphene is limitless, and the grant to the University of Manchester to look at global health issues underlines just how ground-breaking this wonder material could be.
"As well as condoms, graphene could potentially be used in everything from batteries which charge in seconds to photovoltaic windows which generate electricity.
"However, despite the UK being at the very forefront of graphene research, the country's commercialisation of the material has been woeful.
"Of the 7,500 graphene-based patents filed worldwide by 2013, only 54 are from the UK, or less than 1%. In comparison, over 2,200 are held by China and 1,754 by South Korea.
"The graphene community has to agree on a timescale for commercialisation now and develop a clear road map for ongoing research and development. The UK must also establish how it intends to compete in terms of market share and mass production.
"As it stands, the UK is failing to harness the incredible potential of the material it has led the world in developing."
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