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

Get Aeon straight
to your inbox
Join our newsletter Sign up
Follow us on
Facebook
Like

‘Aeon is one of the most consistently great publications on the internet.

My life would be poorer without it.’

Assistant Professor Lee Vinsel, Virginia Tech

‘Aeon is hands down my favourite publication to write for. Deadlines long enough to do the work justice, the best editorial input I’ve encountered and compensation which is respectful of writers’ time.’

Antonia Malchik, essayist and editor

‘Aeon is one of the liveliest, most wide-ranging and imaginative sources of good content on the web.

A fabulous resource for the intelligent and curious.’

Professor Barry C. Smith, University of London

‘I read one article and decided that I wanted to support an organisation that promotes critical thinking around ideas that affect our everyday lives.’

John T, Canada, Friend of Aeon

‘Aeon is consistently the place to find excellent, provocative and thoughtful writing.

One of my favourite places to find new writers and new ideas.’

Professor Sophie Kerttu Scott, University College London

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious thinking.
But we can’t do it without you.

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview.
But we can’t do it without you.

Essay/
Genetics
Haunted by history

War, famine and persecution inflict profound changes on bodies and brains. Could these changes persist over generations?

Pam Weintraub

Essay/
Medical Research
Viral rescue

When antibiotics fail, could phage therapy succeed? The germ’s-eye view of infection might open up revolutionary treatments

Emily Monosson