Just as with our DIY PCR machine page, there are a few DIY centrifuge designs out there. One of those designs requires nothing more than a Dremel tool and a small part ordered online. (The part is 3D printed and is open source, so you could print your own if you happen to have or have access to a 3D printer). Other solutions are far more involved. My biggest complaint, once again, is that the people who make these things just whip something up and their instructions are piss poor (no offense to the genius of the people who are the makers- they are very good makers, just not so good explainers).
DIY Centrifuge – Dremel Tool
Of the three DIY centrifuges we’re going to feature, this one is going to be the easiest to make by far. And while it is nice to have super awesome lab equipment that glows with LED lights and looks like it belongs on a sci-fi set, simply getting something that works for right now should be good enough. We should take a lesson from the tech world, where the goal is to get a working prototype as soon as possible and then to refine it in each iteration.
This DIY centrifuge, called the Dremelfuge for reasons about to become apparent, was designed by Cathal Garvey who is a part of the biohacker and DIYbio movement in the UK. He simply took a Dremel Tool (a high powered rotary tool) as a starting point. Dremel tools can be controlled for a wide range of high RPMs, so Mr. Garvey’s thoughts were simply to add an attachment to it that could hold some tubes and viola.
My first reaction was that this thing was too hacked together and that it wouldn’t get the RPMs you would really want, but in a Google Groups, where Cathal shared his design and work, he gave the following info regarding it’s capabilities:
“Dremelfuge works comfortably at 10krpm. It can exert a maximum RCF of about 52000g, more than enough to shatter microcentrifuge tubes as it turns out. Dremelfuge itself is completely undamaged after this abuse.
This means that, when used within the speed envelope corresponding to normal lab forces (no faster than 16,680 rpm, or 14k RCF), Dremelfuge should be perfect for any DIYbio applications. It even evinced a robust disregard for unbalanced tubes.”
So, how do you make this beauty. It’s pretty simple. First buy a Dremel tool. Anything that can hit 12,000 RPMs is more than good enough. Second, buy or make the attachment. Cathal Garvey has given two iterations of his design (both of which you can buy as a 3D printed object from Shapeways). Or if you have a 3D printer of your own, you can print it out yourself. The design is open source.
For most, simply purchasing the attachment will be good enough. Here is the attachment that works with the Dremel Classic, and here is one for an updated Dremel Chuck Edition. In explaining the two different designs, Cathal said- “I made two editions to allow people to pick one to suit their available tools. The recessed edition is designed specifically for the dremel cutting-disc holder, whereas the chuck edition can be used with any drill, router or machine that can grip it.”
Searches through various Google Groups and other forums revealed that people found/suggested the following:
- Use Eppindorfs as your tube of choice as they have a lip on them that should keep them in place
- Use a bowl or some other enclosure on the sides, as the Eppindorfs can become projectiles
The Dremel tool will set you back anywhere from 40-100 bucks, depending on how much control of RPM you want (as well as some other features), and can be found on Amazon. The attachment is around 40. That makes this the cheapest centrifuge around at about 80 – 140 bucks.
This one used to come in a kit you could buy, but unfortunately, now only some of the parts are available for purchase. The good news is that the instructions are still available. More bad news, though- the instructions include files in old programs like Correl Draw. Yikes. Still, the presentation is the cleanest of the three DIY centrifuge options and after you see the craziness of our last DIY centrifuge, you’re probably going to beg OpenFuge to take you back with a tear in your eye. Heck, if you’re really smart, you’ll go all the way back to the Dremelfuge, but if you have to have your LCD screen, this one is not bad.
Since you can’t buy the full kit anymore, you will need access to a laser cutter to cut out the housing unit. The instructions can be found here and you can purchase some of the elements (though not the full kit) here. As for specs, the Openfuge can reach up to 9,000 RPMs and will set you back about $200 when all is said and done.
Hard Drive DIY Centrifuge
This next DIY Centrifuge looks cooler, but you’re going to pay for it in man hours of labor, frustration, and coins in the swear jar. Like the Dremelfuge, the makers behind this centrifuge started off with something that spins really fast and then tacked a homemade microcentrifuge tube holder to it. There are a few variations of it, but the principle is the same: take a hard drive that is built for spinning fast and turn it into a microsentrifuge. The rotar of the hard drive can spin at 7,200 rpms and above, so you’re well within the range of a function centrifuge for most purposes.
Difficulty rating on this is advanced. Take one look at their how to pictures and read that Arduino code and pin instructions and weep. If you are thinking about trying this one and need to brush up on your Arduino skills, we’ve got a post for that. Oh, you may also need access to any of the following: laser cut machine or 3D printer for the tube holders, used but functioning hard drive, programming skills, and a patience level over 9,000. Looks freaking cool, though, right? Here’s the instructions from hacteria.org.