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Round and Round It Goes

Stanford University's Manu Prakash has developed a low-cost centrifuge that draws on the principles of a children's toy, as 360Dx has reported.

While in Uganda, Prakash asked healthcare workers there what tool they really needed, and they told him they needed a powerful centrifuge that could work anywhere. Back in the States, Prakash and his team started testing various things that spin, including toys, NPR's Shots blog says.

"Toys hide in them pretty profound physical phenomena that we just take for granted," Prakash tells NPR.

As they now report in Nature Biomedical Engineering, Prakash and his team have created a hand-powered centrifuge that's cheap and lightweight and that was inspired by the whirligig toy, in which a disc attached to strings spins when pulled. Their device is made of two card-stock paper discs, braided fishing line, and wood or PVC pipe for handles. Their paperfuge, as they've dubbed their device, can reach speeds of 125,000 rpm, separate plasma from whole blood in a minute and a half, and isolate malaria parasites in 15 minutes. They also tested it in the field in Madagascar, where it worked as hoped, NPR adds.

"The simplicity of manufacturing our proposed device will enable immediate mass distribution of a solution urgently needed in the field," Prakash and his team write in their paper. "Ultimately, our present work serves as an example of frugal science: leveraging the complex physics of a simple toy for global health applications."