Bill Gates Challenges Scientists To Make Better Condoms

"Elastomeric materials that shape-shift"
"Elastomeric materials that shape-shift"

“Super-hydrophilic nanoparticle coating;” “elastomeric materials that shape-shift;” “multiple polymers with a specific geometry;” “collagen fibrils that facilitates heat transfer.” Qualities of what?

New condoms.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, celebrated for engaged, out-of-the-box humanitarian work and money to swing it with issued a world-wide call for better condoms in March. 500 applicants vied, with their ideas, for an 11-spot semifinal position. Each of these 11 are now receiving 100,000 dollars to move toward with their designs. Come next year—sorry!— the Foundation will award up to $1 million to projects it feels can make it to market. There’s an article and a gallery of the applicants on Co.Exist.

Some interesting ideas: a condom that gently tightens during sex. One that traps a thin film of water to reduce friction. The use of superelastomer, a material that can be stretched further and more repeatedly than regular rubber.

Each idea walks a form/function divide, the foundation wants a condom that’s maximally pleasurable, but also maximally safe. Maybe you can think of this on a first world/third world humanitarian need distinction. Coming correct, I see the winning products being those that balance both in the single, simple product best. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation seems to have its eyes on that threshold, and I predict some fancy rubber, or superelastomer, being sent overseas in the future.

Fun fact: the first recorded reference to condom use is attributed to an Italian anti-syphilis tract from the 1600s. Back then they were made out of chemical soaked linen or animal intestines. One contestant in the current running is actually bringing the intestines back in.

Some other documented uses for condoms: balloon animals, gun barrel protection, water proof container, drug smuggling. Maybe the new designs should be considering these too. 

Zach Buck

Zach Buck

Zach Buck is a writer and editor currently living in South Korea. He serves as the official editor of Spatial Studies magazine HEADREST. In 2016 he released experimental digital archive game house.xct_ with Other Families, and it can be read about on otherfamilies.ca.

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