What are we doing?
Our first step involves a team of experts working on the mechanical aspects of the material at the University of Wollongong (UOW). The team is responsible for making the hydrogels using different formulations and test their mechanical performance, physical and friction properties. Conventional hydrogels are mechanically weak, but there are techniques that UOW and others have pioneered to make considerably tougher hydrogel. We then provide these hydrogels to the biological validation team to rigorously test the permeability of the material to ensure our hydrogel condom material acts as an effective barrier for sperm cells, bacteria, and virus particles.
How do we do it?
It is a bit like a selection process for a football team. First, we make different candidate hydrogels that we think will have mechanical performance close to that of rubber. Then we start screening them to identify a composition best suited to produce a material that is strong and flexible enough to be used as a condom. These tests include thorough examination of breaking strength, toughness, their feel and few more technical mechanical properties that meet approved tear and burst resistance standards of current condoms. We also test commercially available condoms to compare them with our hydrogels.
Who is the team?
The mechanical team is led by Dr Sina Naficy, a UOW Global Challenges Research Fellow with extensive experience in making hydrogels with enhanced mechanical performance and in evaluating mechanical properties of the materials. His expertise in the field will lead the team to make hydrogels with required physical and mechanical properties.
Professor Geoff Spinks is the leader of the Manufacturing Innovation challenge in the Global Challenges program. He is an Australian Research Council Professorial Fellow, and has extensive experience in the development and application of materials, including hydrogels, for creating artificial muscles.