Feb 22, 2017
THE 20-CENT MICROCENTRIFUGE
Our mission at American Laboratory Trading is to empower scientists by providing them with high-quality, affordable lab equipment. We’ve found a kindred spirit in biophysicist and inventor Manu Prakash.
Check out his latest project, a microcentrifuge:
- Cost: 20 cents
- Weight: 2 g
- Speed: 125,000 rpm
- Capacity: 7 tubes
- Electrical: 0V
Pretty amazing specs, huh?
Welcome to the Paperfuge, developed by Prakash and his team at Stanford University. Based on a toy, the whirligig, this human-powered centrifuge can separate blood in only 1.5 minutes and can isolate malaria parasites in 15.
Prakash is dedicated to building low-cost tools that address problems in the developing world. “What any damn fool can do for a dollar, an engineer can do for a nickel,” reads a quote on the Prakash lab’s website. The Paperfuge is a perfect example of this concept in action.
“There are more than a billion people around the world who have no infrastructure, no roads, no electricity. I realized that if we wanted to solve a critical problem like malaria diagnosis, we needed to design a human-powered centrifuge that costs less than a cup of coffee.”
Attempts have been made to repurpose egg beaters and salad spinners for centrifugation, but they were unable to attain sufficient rpm. Prakash and Saad Bhamla, a postdoc in his lab, began looking at toys like yo-yos and tops. They discovered that the whirligig was by far the fastest option, initially achieving between 10,000 and 15,000 rpm. With a few tweaks, they eventually hit 125,000 rpm.
Prakash was awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in 2016 for his contributions to the movement he calls “frugal science.”
Besides the Paperfuge, his contributions include the Foldscope, a $1.00 microscope, inspired by origami and made from synthetic paper, and a $5.00 chemistry set that’s based on a music box and uses silicon microfluidic chips.
Compared to its cost, the Paperfuge should have an outsize impact on the diagnosis of infections such as malaria and HIV. We look forward to seeing what Manu Prakash will come up with next.