Unofficial souvenir condoms featuring images of Prince William and Kate Middleton ahead of their wedding in April 2011. UK scientists have won Bill Gates' challenge to develop thinner and stronger condoms ever. (Photo: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth)
Unofficial souvenir condoms featuring images of Prince William and Kate Middleton ahead of their wedding in April 2011. UK scientists have won Bill Gates\' challenge to develop thinner and stronger condoms ever. (Photo: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth)

Scientists in the United Kingdom have won the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation award for inventing the next generation of condoms.

The scientists at Cambridge Design Partnership have been awarded $100,000 (£60,000) for the project as part of the foundation's Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) initiative, which funds innovative ideas to tackle persistent global health and development problems.

The foundation has challenged scientists to design a thinner and stronger male condom ever from a new composite material.

"Quite simply, condoms save lives but new thinking is needed to ensure that men and women around the world are using them consistently and correctly to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections," the charity said in a statement.

The Cambridge team will take Bill Gate's challenge to develop the condom out of the world's thinnest material, known as Graphene.

Graphene, developed by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov at the University of Manchester in 2003, is also one of the strongest materials. In 2010, Geim and Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for their discovery of grapheme.

"Condoms have been in use for about 400 years yet they have undergone very little technological improvement in the past 50 years. The primary improvement has been the use of latex as the primary material and quality control measures which allow for quality testing of each individual condom," it added.

The charity challenges the makers to design condoms that are easier to use, provide a universal fit and gently tightens during intercourse, significantly enhancing pleasure, sensation and reliability.

Scientists are planning to meet this requirement by mixing grapheme with latex.

"To achieve cost effective construction, the obvious traditional design trade-off is between enough elasticity to provide a secure, robust, universal fit, while trying to minimize interference with natural sensation," said Ben Strutt, head of design at Cambridge Design Partnership's Healthcare Research & Development Team.

"Our proposal is for a revised construction that hopes to challenge these apparent conflicts," he concluded.