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The Thirty Dollar Centrifuge
May 4, 2010 11:03 AM   Subscribe

How do you diagnose anemia in a third-world country without electricity? Use the salad-spinner-based thirty dollar centrifuge, developed by Rice undergraduate students Lila Kerr and Lauren Theis.
posted by jjray (25 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is pretty derivative of the egg beater centrifuge. That one only costs two dollars.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:12 AM on May 4, 2010


Any sufficiently cheap technology is indistinguishable from kitchen implements.
posted by DU at 11:16 AM on May 4, 2010 [15 favorites]


There are lots of different kinds of centrifuge.

This one is mostly useful for separating blood? Does it have other uses?
posted by poe at 11:39 AM on May 4, 2010


Drying salad?
posted by mr_roboto at 11:41 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Isn't the "prick your ear and add the blood to a test tube full of blue stuff" method that they use at blood drives also electricity-free? Or is that not adequate because it only measures iron content, and thus wouldn't necessarily diagnose other forms of anemia?
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:42 AM on May 4, 2010


Oooh, don't forget the Alton Brown Salad spinner method of drying french fries. (removing both starch and water from the surface.)
posted by poe at 11:43 AM on May 4, 2010


Still, adapting common, readily available implements to improve health care or availability of care in areas of the world that desperately need it gets a huzzah from me. I don't care if it's made from sorghum & old pipe cleaners.
posted by beelzbubba at 11:44 AM on May 4, 2010


Do medical professionals in developing countries have absolutely no ability to improvise or something? I remember a while ago there was a post on here about an African (sorry, can't remember the specific country, they all look the same to me.…) bicycle mechanic who had jigged together his own tools for removing sprockets and things. It's not like people out there are so utterly destitute that they don't generally have access to the components for this sort of functional homebrew lab equipment right?

I guess what I'm trying to say is, why are we hearing about the ingenuity of some college kids and not the ingenuity of the communities this is meant to be helping?
posted by public at 11:49 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I guess what I'm trying to say is, why are we hearing about the ingenuity of some college kids and not the ingenuity of the communities this is meant to be helping?

Because it was college kids that invented a $30 hand-powered centrifuge? I mean, I see your point, and once in a while we do see articles about people in third world countries coming up with crazy inventions (like the guy in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind who built a windmill out of spare parts in the middle of nowhere in Malawi), but the fact that was a couple of Rice University students that came up with this invention doesn't make the invention any less awesome.
posted by infinitywaltz at 12:00 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I suspect we hear about these inventions as they are in communities that have easy access to telecommunications (e.g. Rice University). If you figure this out in a rural village (and I'm sure lots of people do figure out similar types of things, several times a day all around the world) you probably don't have the means to share your result.

The more stories like this the better though, and the wheel of human-innovation can roll on!
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 12:07 PM on May 4, 2010


It's a clever idea, but why doesn't their advisor suggest that instead of using something which is rare in poor countries, i.e., a salad spinner as the basis for their design, something that is more common such as a bicycle?
posted by digsrus at 12:27 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you like this, you'll love d-lab
posted by lalochezia at 12:41 PM on May 4, 2010


"I guess what I'm trying to say is, why are we hearing about the ingenuity of some college kids and not the ingenuity of the communities this is meant to be helping?"

The Crate and Barrel locations in West Africa are often short of salad spinners.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:00 PM on May 4, 2010


The Crate and Barrel locations in West Africa are often short of salad spinners.

Yup. In a less snarky way, the developed world has a plethora of kitchen implements that people in developing countries (especially those with fucked up exchange rates or import restrictions) never thought of. In some sense, it's more probable that someone will independently come up with a combustion engine than with the "EZ cracker", because the engine solves a real problem, whereas someone would really need to have no other problems in the world to even consider there's an easier way to crack an egg.

It's not a question of someone figuring out "oh, if you have something that you can spin stuff with, you can use it as a centrifuge", but a question of knowing there's already something mass produced that's roughly what you need. I'll bet you anyone in Swaziland who knows what a centrifuge is knew they could use something like that to centrifuge blood. But making something like that would cost way more than 30 dollars. That's when you need some American college kid that knows there's something close to that that's already mass produced for Americans to spin salads. Heck, I've lived in the US for a few years, and had no idea such a thing existed.
posted by qvantamon at 1:36 PM on May 4, 2010


"I guess what I'm trying to say is, why are we hearing about the ingenuity of some college kids and not the ingenuity of the communities this is meant to be helping?"


Because Rice has a cracking PR team to push out press releases.
posted by atrazine at 1:40 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I remember a while ago there was a post on here about an African (sorry, can't remember the specific country, they all look the same to me.…) bicycle mechanic who had jigged together his own tools for removing sprockets and things. It's not like people out there are so utterly destitute that they don't generally have access to the components for this sort of functional homebrew lab equipment right?

I guess what I'm trying to say is, why are we hearing about the ingenuity of some college kids and not the ingenuity of the communities this is meant to be helping?



awesome guy from Togo and his awesome robot


Do medical professionals in developing countries have absolutely no ability to improvise or something?

I kinda like this project as an exemplar of cutting edge constraint driven innovation. I bet even the docs involved from carnegie mellon are indian or south asian... I mean c'mon hand's up if your doctor is indian or your nurse filipino ;p
posted by infini at 2:33 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


awesome guy from Togo and his awesome robot

OH MY GOD SO AWESOME
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:53 PM on May 4, 2010


Man I want one.
posted by kid ichorous at 4:07 PM on May 4, 2010


(Robot)
posted by kid ichorous at 4:07 PM on May 4, 2010


To those saying how impossible it is to invent things in Africa, how about this related question: Why are we hearing about this being invented but not about it being used?

That's the way these Africa-assisting projects always go. Some kid in school imagines what it's like to live in Africa, invents a device s/he thinks s/he'd need to survive there, puts out a press release and calls it a good deed for the day. Once in a while a REALLY intrepid inventor snaps a picture of some villagers gathered around the device.

Does Africa actually get helped by these things?
posted by DU at 7:08 PM on May 4, 2010


I never fail to be amazed at the MeFi tendency to look at something that seems to be a fairly straightforward net good and start complaining that it isn't better. Not room for a lot of joy in that, people.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 7:25 PM on May 4, 2010


See, and going the other way, I always thought a vortex mixer would be great for mixing like chocolate milk. (Or at least making a mess in a awesome way.)
posted by blueberry at 8:31 PM on May 4, 2010


blueberry, now that you bring that up, I do have a magnetic stir plate at home...
posted by qvantamon at 8:54 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I guess what I'm trying to say is, why are we hearing about the ingenuity of some college kids and not the ingenuity of the communities this is meant to be helping?

John Perry Barlow wrote "Everything You Know About Africa is Wrong" 13 years ago. (barlow@eff.org) is a retired Wyoming cattle rancher and cofounder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

That was my belated introduction to the idea that I made assumptions about Africa based on old "Mogambo" and "Hatari" movies. The Rural Development work done by George Axinn also helped me past those cultural blinders. Axinn taught at Michigan State forever (Community, Agriculture, Recreation, and Resource Studies) and I'm sure he had had his share of students like the women at Rice. I recommend dialing down the cynicism about their motives and recognizing that the web of influence spreads rhizomatically.
posted by beelzbubba at 10:20 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


beelzbubba, I hear what you are saying but my response isn't quite cynicism but close enough and nuanced that it could be mistaken for cynicism in a way. here's why:

"design for social impact/do good/better world/etc" all presume happy, pretty people making this really cool stuff that wins design awards etc for these downtrodden people. however the problems arise when a) majority of these kids haven't seen the inside of a shack b) have figured out no way to actually get the product realistically in the hands of those who need it and c) made assumptions based on misconceptions and/or well meaning ignorance

this leads to the landscape being littered with this crap, and not just of africa, which does tend to have it worse, but also india and other glamourous "poverty" places where well meaning do gooders mean to do well

I'd rather enable that young man from togo to enhance his skills and knowledge to build his own solutions to the problems he percieves in his environment or to pursue his dreams and inspire others in his community than support a couple of pretty co-eds in Rice who went shopping in crate & barrel

sorry but the other 90% these solutions are meant for are beginning to object
posted by infini at 1:36 PM on May 5, 2010


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