The Technological Development of the Female Condom

And four other intriguing things: personal thermal imaging, thawed viruses, octopus wrestling, and the everyday GPS tracker.

1. The return of the female condom.

"By 2003, they had hit on the solution: a dissolving applicator. The engineers created a condom that looked like a funnel, with a thin sheet of polyurethane that narrowed into a rounded tip. This tip contained the main pouch of the condom, collapsed inside a dissolving capsule. To insert the condom, women would simply push the capsule inside, much the same way they’d insert a tampon. Once it came into contact with the moisture of the vagina, the capsule would melt away – often within 30 to 60 seconds – releasing the full condom pouch.

"The product designers gave the condom stability by attaching four small, thin pieces of polyurethane foam to the outside of the condom. Once the pouch expanded, these foam pieces nestled up against the vaginal wall, keeping the condom in place. Like other female condoms, the model also featured a flexible outer ring to cover the external genitalia.

"Between November 2003 and January 2004, 60 couples received samples of this prototype to try at home. They were impressed. Eighty-eight per cent of the women said it was easy to insert and 97 per cent said the pouch was stable during sex. The vast majority of men and women asked said the condom was comfortable, and 98 per cent of women and 100 per cent of men said it allowed for satisfactory sensation during sex.

It had taken six years and more than 300 unique prototypes, but by early 2004, PATH had found its female condom."

+ This is the lead story on the new featurey site, Mosaic Science


2. A "personal thermal imager" for your iPhone.

"FLIR ONE is a non-contact device that detects infrared energy (heat) and converts it into an electronic signal, which is then processed to produce a thermal image on your phone screen and perform temperature calculations. Heat sensed by an infrared camera can be very precisely measured, allowing you to use the FLIR ONE in a variety of practical and fun ways by revealing a thermal world not visible to the unaided eye."


3. Virus thawed out after being frozen for 30,000 years in Siberian permafrost. Still infectious

"Called  Pithovirus sibericum, it belongs to a class of giant viruses that were discovered 10 years ago. These are all so large that, unlike other viruses, they can be seen under a microscope. And this one, measuring 1.5 micrometres in length, is the biggest that has ever been found.

"The last time it infected anything was more than 30,000 years ago, but in the laboratory it has sprung to life once again. Tests show that it attacks amoebas, which are single-celled organisms, but does not infect humans or other animals. Co-author Dr Chantal Abergel, also from the CNRS, said: 'It comes into the cell, multiplies and finally kills the cell. It is able to kill the amoeba - but it won't infect a human cell.'

"However, the researchers believe that other more deadly pathogens could be locked in Siberia's permafrost."


4. The glory days of the World Octopus Wrestling Championships

"As quirky as the Pacific Northwest is, the World Octopus Wrestling Championships held in Tacoma in the mid-1960s qualify as one of this region's most unusual events. In one of the contests, a reported 5,000 people watched 111 divers going into the waters off Titlow Beach near the Tacoma Narrows.

"The contestants dived 30 to 50 feet to grab giant Pacific octopuses out of a cave or wherever they were making a home.  The wrestling part came in loosening the octopus as it gripped the cave with its arms and suction cups.

"It was a contest won by the divers. 'They have good suction, but if you get their arms, and pull, the suction cups go pop, pop, pop. They don't have a lot of holding strength,' remembers Gary Keffler, 75, one of the organizers."


5. Anybody can buy a GPS unit to track a vehicle in real-time for $239 and $30 a month.

"Reduce Overtime & Labor Costs: The G5 will allow you to monitor what time your employees started, arrived and left each and every stop throughout the day. How many miles were driven, how long they idled, were they speeding? Did they drive into an area they were not supposed to be in? Did they stop off at any locations that were not authorized?

"Auto Alerts - Vehicle Management: When the system is properly set-up, manages itself by alerting you of events in the field. Reports can be generated on a regular basis to provide a detailed an very accurate snapshot of your drivers and vehicles in the field."


Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip:

art. Art runs up through the meanings skill; human kill, as opposed to nature; skill displaying itself in perfection of workmanship; the skillful production of the beautiful in visible forms (painting, sculpture, engraving, architecture); and down from anything wherein skill may be displayed (the liberal arts); contrasted with science (science teaches us to know, art to do); hence craft, knack, artifice, wile, trick. Thus artificial often has a derogatory implication, & artless or artlessness, a favorable. For the broad distinction between art & science, see SCIENCE.


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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