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3D Printing Aids Stanford Engineers in Mass Producing Life-Saving Whirligig

3Ders caught wind of an exciting new device engineers at Stanford University have developed aiding in the detection of malaria.  Malaria is “an infectious disease spread by mosquitoes, [which] can cause fever, vomiting, fatigue, and – in extreme cases – death.  The condition is easy to diagnose with proper medical equipment, but, understandably, that equipment is not always available.”

When this is the case, centrifuges are the perfect solution for medical workers operating out of remote areas.  “By spinning a blood sample very quickly, different cell types in the blood can be separated from each other, making it easier to spot parasites.”

But how to get hold of a centrifuge?

This was a question Manu Prakash, professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, “asked himself…during a trip to Uganda, when he encountered medical workers desperately [in need of] a centrifuge” and one they could use without the aid of electricity.

Prakash elaborates on this worldwide dilemma: “there are more than a billion people around the world who have no infrastructure, no roads, no electricity.  I realized if we wanted to solve a critical problem like malaria diagnosis, we need to design a human-powered centrifuge that costs less than a cup of coffee.”

And so Prakash got to work.

His inspiration was the deceptively simple mechanics of children’s toys.  At first, he experimented with the spinning abilities of Yo-Yos, but found they were just too slow.  His team finally arrived on the appropriate toy for the task, which originated from the Bronze Age: the whirligig.

The whirligig “consists of a wheel in the center of a wire that spins by hand or wind power.”  The team eventually designed “an incredibly efficient whirligig, recording unprecedented speeds of 125,000 revolutions per minute.  Since the first version of the rapid-fire whirligig was made from paper, the engineers called their device a ‘paperfuge.’”

“To make a paperfuge, all that is required is paper coated with polymer film, string, and PVC pipe, or wood.  To operate it, blood samples are attached to the center disc, after which the user can pull on the string to commence the rapid revolutions.  This speedy spinning causes the cells to separate, just as they would in a more expensive electric centrifuge.”  Possibly the most startling asset of the paperfuge, however, is that it only costs 20 cents!

Where might 3D printing fit into this equation, you may be asking.

Well, 3D printing can aid these Stanford University engineers in the mass production of these sorts of devices.  “With this method, they were able to 3D print over 100 plastic whirligig devices in a day.”

The team concludes: “Using a desktop 3D printer (Form 2, Formlabs), we rapidly printed lightweight (20 g) prototypes of different ‘3D-fuges’ that spun at speeds of approximately 10,000 r.p.m. These further open opportunities to mass-manufacture millions of centrifuges using injection-molding techniques.”

While not as fast as their paper counterparts, these ‘3D-fuges’ are more durable and resilient – “a useful attribute in places where access to the source materials is limited.”

Video, Image, and Quotes Courtesy of Stanford University and 3Ders

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