Whoever said goofing around wouldn’t lead to new discoveries must have not done it long enough. Taking inspiration from the small, spinning whirligig toy, students at the Lambert High School in Georgia have come up with an inexpensive portable centrifuge capable of separating liquids of different densities.
Dubbed the 3D-Fuge, the project is actually a modification on the work of M. Saad Bhamla, one of the students’ advisors. His original idea consisted of a paper centrifuge filled with tiny plastic tubes. You would glue the samples to be separated to these tubes and whirl them around until the individual liquids were separated.
The initial concept proved promising, but the “paperfuge” could only handle samples weighing up to 1 microliter. Using his initial idea as a springboard, he and his students were able to develop a design which could be 3D printed and hold samples weighing a hundred times heavier than those in the paperfuge.
The 3D-Fuge is mainly composed of a button-like disk. By threading some cord or string through the holes in the centrifuge, you can swing the entire thing with two hands until the button whirls around and separates the liquids with varying densities.
Two designs were made for the centrifuge: one specific for field biology was taken to a rainforest in Peru to identify some unknown plants using DNA sequencing and the other was used by high school students to create bacterial sensors for identifying diseases.
Seeing as this is a 3D printed centrifuge, it does have its limits. Unlike the more expensive centrifuges you see in a state-of-the-art lab, the 3D-Fuge can only separate a few samples at once. It also can’t quite reach the rotation speeds of a machine-turned centrifuge, nor can it produce the same speed and force you would otherwise generate from the lighter paperfuge (the 3D-Fuge weight about 20 grams).
Still, you can’t deny that for less than $1, you get about the same results as you would with a thousand dollar centrifuge. This is exactly what Saad had in mind when conceptualizing the project. Taking the overall price with the results, the 3D-Fuge is perfect for budding scientists or those who are on a budget.
You can read the entire research paper on the 3D-Fuge here. While you’re at it, you can find more on Bhamla and his team on their official webpage. They even posted the STL files so anyone can make their own 3D-Fuge for free!