Entry for:Inspire Australia Research Competition
Imagine if there was a condom you couldn’t wait to use, instead of just had to. Could we design an innovative more pleasurable condom by changing the material they are normally made from? Could this material change lead to increased condom usage and help alleviate the burden caused by the impact of not using condoms? Our project involves tackling that challenge by developing a better feeling condom made from tough hydrogels.
Hydrogels are a class of materials often described as soft, squishy and wet. They consist mainly of water held together by molecular chains called polymers. Hydrogels also have properties close to tissue and can be designed to feel like skin. Recently, new tough hydrogels have been developed that have mechanical properties similar to rubber - for instance stretching over 1000 times their initial size. They can also be engineered to be effective biological barriers. It’s these specially developed materials that are being used to create the hydrogel condom. Our task has been to identify the right formulations to build a condom that is strong and flexible, provides superior protection, and that offers the potential for improved feel and sensation.
We also want to understand the barriers and enablers that influence the use of condoms in Africa and Asia. Our plan is to involve people from those communities in developing ideas for improved condom usage. There are many reasons – from cultural stigmas to personal attitudes – that influence the use of condoms. We are reviewing and conducting research to understand the reasons people do or do not use condoms in selective areas of Sub Saharan Africa and South East Asia. In addition, we plan to engage locally with recent migrants in Australia to provide insight into the factors that influence condom use. This information will be critical in informing a strategy to engage with the communities on this sensitive topic. We aim to work with them to identify effective ways in which condoms should be developed and furthermore marketed appropriately.
We are using design innovation methods to translate the needs and desires of the communities into product solutions that can be realistically produced. Design driven innovation is a collaborative process that brings together design strategy, human-centered research and social innovation principles. We will tie the research in materials development and in community engagement, to the theories around aesthetics, function and form. This helps us move beyond purely engineering-driven product development to create insightful and useful products that can be manufactured effectively. In reimagining the condom, we aim to create new hydrogel-based condom concepts that answer the specific challenges in our targeted communities, by providing a design that excites and motivates use.
3. Additional Details
Any funding received will directly support Early Career Researchers working on the project. On behalf of our team we appreciate your help!
Simon Cook, Hai Xin, Sina Naficy, Jason McArthur, Chris Magee, Gianni Renda, Bridgette Engeler Newbury & Robert Gorkin
Find out more at http://projectgeldom.com/
Follow us on Twitter @projectGELdom
Supported in part by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science http://www.electromaterials.edu.au/