Centrifuges: between science and industry

A centrifuge is a device that applies a sustained centrifugal force (i.e. a force produced by rotation) to move material away from the center of rotation. This principle is used to separate particles in a liquid medium by sedimentation. It is a machine used primarily for the separation of heterogeneous liquid-solid mixtures and liquid mixtures such as mutually insoluble liquids with different specific gravities.


The principle and need for the first centrifugal machine began with the sugar industry, looking for a system capable of concentrating sugars and removing honeys in a centrifugal process. In 1848, the first centrifugal machine for sugar cane purification was created, attributed to Shotter and Dubrunfaut, but the patent was granted to David Weston in 1852. The machine, called a centrifugal separator, was built at Lihue Plantation in Honolulu, Hawaii.

In the industrial sector, centrifuges were a reality and a trend for mass processes, but in the field of science, this element for separating more subtle materials was missing. In 1924, the first centrifuge for scientific laboratories was developed. It was developed by Theodor Svedber, a Swedish physicist and chemist at Uppsala University.

It took years for this invention to be developed worldwide, initially due to skepticism. From 1926 to 1937, work was done to achieve this reality, and it was possible to measure hemoglobin proteins and nucleic acids. From then on, the fields of medicine, physics and chemistry would never be the same again.

What are the most common types of centrifuges?

Some centrifuges can be used for a wide variety of applications, while others are only suitable for very specific purposes. Different types of centrifuges are suitable for different types of centrifugation: preparative centrifugation, which aims to isolate specific particles, and analytical centrifugation, which estimates physical properties such as sedimentation rate or molecular weight.

Centrifuges can be divided into two main groups:

– Analytical: They allow to obtain molecular data: molecular mass, sedimentation coefficient, etc. They are very expensive and rare. They are very expensive and rare.

– Preparations: These are used to isolate and purify samples. There are four types: benchtop centrifuges, high-capacity centrifuges, high-speed centrifuges and ultracentrifuges.

What are the parts of a centrifuge?

The type of centrifuge will depend on its operation and characteristics, such as the type of rotor and the type of sample tube. Its components are: Rotor, motor, vacuum chamber and speed, time and temperature control.

Laboratory application

The laboratory is one of the most important spaces in the field of science, as it is where the different experimental tests are carried out to prove the theories developed in the research centers. In the laboratory, it is necessary to have a large amount of material and equipment to facilitate the work, and one of these equipments is the laboratory centrifuge, a very sophisticated device used to separate particles from a homogeneous solution.

Laboratory centrifuges, as mentioned above, are highly sophisticated and specialized equipment that generate rotational movements with the objective of separating the compounds or components that make up a substance. Thanks to the centrifugal acceleration produced by this modern machine, it is possible to cause the sedimentation of the components of a substance. This is why centrifugal machines are used in various fields, and among the most prominent are blood analysis laboratories, whose objective is to divide platelet-rich plasma or blood serum.

During the work process with laboratory centrifuges, it is recommended that only highly trained personnel be present in the area where the work is to be carried out, in order to preserve the integrity of the sample; for this same purpose, it is essential to keep the lid closed while the centrifuge is working; likewise, it is essential that the surface where the machine is going to work be perfectly level.

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