The Optimist Citizen

Paperfuge: A low cost, hand powered centrifuge based on the concept of a whirligig toy

We all remember a Whirligig toy. A simple toy made out of paper, twine and plastic that can be played with endless joy for as long as we wanted. But, what if we were to reveal that this toy can have capabilities much beyond our comprehension? Capabilities that can help in detecting diseases and in saving thousands of lives.

Manu Prakash, an assistant professor of bio-engineering at Stanford University, has invented new variant of a centrifuge – a rapidly rotating machine that separates the different components of a liquid by density – out of paper, twine and plastic, which is based on the same structural principles of a Whirligig toy.

Blood sample tests play a major role in diagnosis of many diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, HIV and others. Plasma which is lighter in mass, floats at the surface and the red blood cells that are heavier settle at the bottom. The parasites and pathogens, that are lighter than red blood cells and heavier than plasma, occupy the middle layer. Inspired by the working of a whirligig toy, the scientists at Stanford developed this alternative prototype that used the same mechanics of the toy, but had a vial of blood sample attached to the rotating paper disc. The hand powered paper disc, aptly name Paperfuge, can spin at a speed of 125,000 rpm to separate the components in less than 1.5 minutes. In minimal time, the apparatus can separate the parasites and aid in a speedy diagnosis and treatment of diseases like malaria, African sleeping sickness and tuberculosis. And the applicability enhances due to its simple, inexpensive manufacturing and its capability to function without any electric power.


The existing machines in this stream of medical research are expensive and inaccessible for many developing nations. Paperfuge aims to spearhead a new path for diagnosis and help in improving the quality of healthcare in the most remote and inaccessible regions around the world.

This article was originally published in The Optimist Citizen – Issue 19 dated 16 FEB ’17.  Get exclusive early access to the stories, SUBSCRIBE NOW.

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