So what are hydrogels and why use them for a condom?
You could be wearing one now … a hydrogel that is. They’re often used in products such as contact lenses because they are soft tissue-like materials that are safe for use on the body. Technically hydrogels are defined as water swollen polymer networks - you could think of them as think squishy plastics. And hydrogels are found in a host of applications ranging from food products, to cosmetics, to pharmaceuticals, to even implants.
While traditionally hydrogels have been mechanically weak, we have helped pioneer new class of tough hydrogels that are strong and stretchable like rubber. This was the catalyst of the project - can we replace latex condoms with a novel material with a range of interesting and beneficial properties.
So why change from latex? Tough hydrogels are exciting because they can be designed to feel more like human skin than latex or other condoms. They can also be completely transparent, they have no issues like latex allergies, and they are potentially biodegradable and eco-friendly. They even have the potential to deliver anti-STD medication or sensation enhancing agents.
In short, our project is focused on delivering a condom material that is strong, safe, and better feeling.