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How a children’s toy led to an essential medical device

2 minutes

‘Sometimes inspiration for big ideas comes from really unexpected places’

Centrifuges are a basic component of any modern medical laboratory. Used to separate different types of cells within a blood sample by spinning them extremely quickly, they are an essential tool for detecting many diseases. Due to the price of equipment and a lack of electricity, however, many medical centres in resource-poor areas lack access to the technology. After seeing this problem first-hand on a visit to Uganda, Manu Prakash, professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, thought up a new tool that wouldn’t require any electricity whatsoever. Inspired by a children’s toy known as the whirligig, Prakash invented the ‘paperfuge’, a hand-powered centrifuge that costs just 20 cents each to produce. Read more about Prakash and the paperfuge at NPR’s website.

Producer: Meredith Rizzo, Madeline Sofia, Andrea Kissack, Joe Palca

Animator: Benjamin Arthur

Website: Joe’s Big Idea

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