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’s combination of intelligence, integrity and flair is vanishingly rare – and I am very grateful for it. It is becoming an indispensable presence in the digital world for those who believe that ideas matter.’

Tom Chatfield, writer and commentator on digital culture

‘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 always providing great, thought-provoking content, and it would be a crime for me to not donate to a service that I use daily.’

Jarry A, Canada, Friend of Aeon

‘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 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

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.

Support Aeon

Essay/
Gender & Sexuality
Transitioning

Individual transgender lives track a wider cultural history of surgery, hormones and revolutionised gender identities

Randi Hutter Epstein

Essay/
Old Age & Death
Die like a dog

Pet dogs often have a peaceful death that forestalls protracted suffering and pain. Why can’t we do the same for humans?

Joseph Pierre