This DIY toy is fun and simple — and could help tackle malaria and other diseases.

If you're, say, researching a new drug or vaccine, this lab might be perfect.

Image via iStock.

But not everyone is lucky enough to have access to such resources. If you're not in a big city, for example, or if you're one of the world's many remote health care workers, in which case you might be going someplace where you can bring only what fits in your Jeep.


Which means that lab is just not coming along.

One of the tools we'd really like to make "back-of-Jeep" friendly is the centrifuge.

Centrifuges are one of the most common scientific tools and work by spinning samples at ridiculously high speeds. In medicine they're used to prep blood samples for analysis. Unfortunately, typical centrifuges are bulky, heavy, expensive, and electronic, which led designers to search for alternative solutions.

Designers often look for inspiration in everyday objects. Some have tried salad spinners as a centrifuge replacement. Others tried egg beaters. Both of those were too slow and awkward, but now researchers at Stanford might have found something awesome.

This simple toy is known as a whirligig.

Image from Nature/YouTube.

You may have played with one before, and if you haven't, they're dead simple to make. Researchers spotted it and were curious: Could this thing work as a centrifuge? It certainly spun, but how fast? The researchers decided to build their own prototype and test it out.

Using a high-speed camera and some seriously impressive physics calculations, they found that a whirligig could get up to a blisteringly fast 125,000 revolutions per minute. That's not just fast, that's centrifuge fast.

Since the first test, researchers have come up with a new whirligig design that could hold small amounts of blood or other scientific samples. They're calling it the "paperfuge" and are working with health care workers in Madagascar to learn how to improve and distribute it.

Image from Nature/YouTube.

Initial results seem good. They can get blood samples to separate in just 90 seconds. After 15 minutes, results were fine enough to even identify malaria parasites. This means the paperfuge might be able to bring a ton of new tests — from basic health checkups to serious diagnostics — to the millions of people who live outside the range of typical labs.

A lot of science is, unfortunately, out of reach for normal people. Clever design like this could remove some of the barriers.

Image from Nature/YouTube.

Creating more accessible equipment could help democratize science, says Dr. Manu Prakash, one of the researchers who worked on the paperfuge. There are a ton of smart, knowledgable people out there, but living in a place where you can easily get and use thousand-dollar centrifuges is a privilege many do not get. New tools like the paperfuge could change that.

Science is one of the best ways we have to learn about and change our world. Imagine what we can do once everyone has access to it.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less