Centrifuges separate blood components to make pathogens easier to detect – and they’re essential to diagnosing and treating diseases like Malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis. However centrifuges need electricity to work – therefore, in remote areas without electricity, a common centrifuge is worthless. Enter the Paperfuge – an ingenious human-powered centrifuge made from 20 cents of paper, twine and plastic. The low-cost device can separate plasma from a blood sample in 990 seconds without electricity – and it could save millions of lives around the world every year.

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Manu Prakash is an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford who specializes in low-cost diagnostic tools for underserved regions. He was inspired to create the Paperfuge after a trip to Uganda where he saw a very expensive centrifuge being used as a doorstop because there was no electricity to power it. The moment inspired Prakash to find a way to convert human energy into spinning force using the low-tech spinning toys of yesteryear such as yo-yos, tops, and whirligigs.

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“There are more than a billion people around the world who have no infrastructure, no roads, no electricity. I realized that if we wanted to solve a critical problem like malaria diagnosis, we needed to design a human-powered centrifuge that costs less than a cup of coffee,” said Prakash.

Working with a team of Stanford bioengineers and undergraduate engineering students from MIT, Prakash created the Paperfuge out of 20 cents of paper, twine, and plastic. Don’t be fooled by its simple appearance: the human-powered centrifuge can spin at 125,000 rpm, exerting centrifugal forces of 30,000 Gs, “To the best of my knowledge, it’s the fastest spinning object driven by human power,” said Prakash.

The device aids in rapid, precise diagnoses, which result in more effective treatments for people living in areas where infectious diseases are common. The Paperfuge was recently honored with the world’s biggest design prize – the 2017 INDEX: Award.

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