Students Transform Salad Spinner Into Life-Saving Centrifuge

by , 05/03/10

sustainable design, recycled design, salad spinner, rice, rice university, design for health, green design, anemia

When’s the last time you heard of a salad spinner that saves lives? Two Rice University students have transformed a simple salad spinner into an electricity-free centrifuge that can be used to diagnose diseases on the cheap. Created by Lauren Theis and Lila Kerr, the ingenious DIY centrifuge is cobbled together using a salad spinner, some plastic lids, combs, yogurt containers, and a hot glue gun. The simple and easily-replicated design could be an invaluable tool for clinics the developing world, enabling them to separate blood to detect diseases like anemia without electricity.

sustainable design, recycled design, salad spinner, rice, rice university, design for health, green design, anemia

The students discovered that a salad spinner can separate 15 microliters of blood into plasma and heavy red blood cells after spinning for just 10 minutes. By holding a gauge up to the tube, Theis and Kerr are able to measure a patient’s hematocrit (ratio of red blood cells to total volume), which can indicate anemia. And while anemia itself isn’t deadly, the condition can point to other ailments like HIV, malnutrition, and malaria.

The so-called Sally Centrifuge will get its first real-world experience this summer, when Theis and Kerr field test the $30 device on patients in Ecuador, Swaziland, and Malawi. Not bad for a couple of college kids.

+ Rice University

Via PhysOrg

Photo Credits: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

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  1. RC May 10, 2010 at 2:54 pm


    I’m sure this is a prototype. If this works as expected in the field, I’m sure these two students will proceed to scope someone out to create a mock-up without using combs and yogurt containers and go to a manufacturer to build the thing.

    I work in a lab and event though we have several centrifuges that can go from 10 to 100000 RPMs, I would love one of these on a smaller scale for a quick spin of samples.

    Another use, although anathema to this site, is as a cheap, disposable, low speed centrifuge for use with biohazard materials.

  2. cashclientele May 10, 2010 at 4:41 am

    Can’t someone just make a hand powered centrifuge for a few dollars? It doesn’t make sense to make a salad dryer, combs, yoghurt lids, etc and then bastardise all of these into something else.

  3. phrend May 5, 2010 at 1:29 am

    I can\’t speak to how useful this device will be in practice, but your argument is as bad as your attitude. What led you to believe that the device had to be constructed in the field (without electricity)? Wouldn\’t it be possible to build the device in a city (with electricity) and then take it out to the field for use? If the device had to be constructed in the field, wouldn\’t it be possible to use epoxy, or something similar, rather than hot-glue?

  4. Cpt.Obvious May 4, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    How is this news, you might as well tie a vile to a string and fling it around – it would be a hell of a lot easier/cheaper/energy efficient (considering the glue gun still needs power and this would be absurd to try and market to perhaps anyone but the bill and melinda gates foundation to get it to such locations as it is designed for – and given their mosquito zappers – they must be able to afford generators).

  5. irreverant May 4, 2010 at 11:30 am

    What I took from the article was not that they re-invented the wheel, but where able to use analytical thinking and problem solving skills TO re-invent the wheel. They were able to think outside the box and develop a centrifuge (that works) from parts that you can find around a house. I think these students are creative – partner that with their education and it’s amazing to think what they will be possible of doing or making in the future. Our future lie’s in the hands of our youth – i feel good about our future with students like this.

  6. Aurora May 3, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    This is a great topic. Those girls have such creativity. I particularly like that they were able to make this by looking around at the tools they had to work with and reused some common packaging materials to make a truly useful new product. I wrote another blog post about the same topic at

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