Frugal Science: Improving Health Across the Globe

Troy Brown, RN

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June 15, 2017

In This Article

Paperfuge: A Whirligig-Based Centrifuge

Dr Prakash and his colleagues also invented the paperfuge, a human-powered centrifuge that has rotational speeds of up to 125,000 revolutions per minute and is capable of separating blood plasma from red cells in 1.5 minutes.[9] Such technology is used to diagnose diseases that include malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV.

They investigated several toys they thought might be able to reach rotational speeds capable of performing laboratory tasks, but they were only able to get tops and yo-yos to reach a fraction of the speed necessary.[10]

But then M. Saad Bhamla, PhD, at the time a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford, discovered that an improvised whirligig—a toy that is thousands of years old—might do the trick. He tested his theory by looping a string through a button, spinning it around and around, and then pulling on the string to spin the button in the opposite direction. Dr Bhamla knew they were onto something.[10]

The researchers described the design and implementation of their paper centrifuge in Nature Biochemical Engineering.[9] "We demonstrate that the paperfuge can separate pure plasma from whole blood in less than 1.5 [minutes], and isolate malaria parasites in 15 [minutes]," the researchers write in the journal. "We also show that paperfuge-like centrifugal microfluidic devices can be made of polydimethylsiloxane, plastic and 3D-printed polymeric materials. Ultracheap, power-free centrifuges should open up opportunities for point-of-care diagnostics in resource-poor settings and for applications in science education and field ecology."

The development of the paperfuge is described in this video.

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