Centrifuges are devices that can be employed to place objects in a rotational motion with respect to a fixed axis. This results in the application of a force on the object which is perpendicular to the axis of the rotation. In simple terms, the centrifuge is used to spin an object in a circle in order to make it experience an outward force. The key applications of the centrifuge are touched upon in this article.
Laboratory Applications of the Centrifuge
- Centrifuges that are designed for laboratory-scale applications are widely used in the fields of biology, biochemistry, and chemistry for the isolation and separation of certain mixtures of immiscible liquids. Furthermore, the components of suspensions can also be separated with the help of a centrifuge. It can also be noted that the centrifuge is also used in the clinical medicine industry for the separation of mixtures.
- One vital laboratory application of centrifuges is in blood separation. The separation of blood into its component cells and proteins such as white blood cells (WBCs), red blood cells (RBCs), and platelets can be achieved with the help of laboratory scale centrifuges.
- Another important laboratory application of the centrifuge is in the separation of DNA. For this, DNA samples must first be purified and prepped for separation (usually through the addition of buffers to it) and then placed in a centrifuge for a fixed amount of time.
Uses of Centrifuges in the Aeronautic and Astronautic Industries
In order to test tolerance of astronauts and pilots to conditions in which their bodies are placed under an acceleration which is greater than that experienced under the Earth’s gravitational force, they are placed in specially designed human centrifuges. The first ever human centrifuge was created in the year 1933.
Such centrifuges are designed in order to help train and evaluate astronauts and pilots for flying under high-g conditions. Another important application of such centrifuges is to simulate the feeling of a gravitational force on humans. Such an application may be viable in space missions of relatively long durations. Furthermore, the simulated gravity produced by these centrifuges may also help reduce (or prevent altogether) the decalcification of bones and muscle atrophy, both of which are common side effects of being exposed to free fall for long durations of time.
Other Commercial Uses of Centrifuges
- Specially designed centrifuges, in combination with a water outlet, can be used for the drying of hand washed clothes. Such centrifuges are widely employed by laundry services that handle relatively large loads of laundry.
- In order to remove the excess water in the washed clothes, special types of centrifuges are incorporated into domestic laundry machines.
- In the field of soil mechanics, centrifuges are employed in order to match the soil stresses (by employing centrifugal acceleration) in scale models to real soil samples.
- The oil sands industry is known to employ centrifuges in order to separate small quantities of residual solids and water from asphalt (sometimes referred to as bitumen). Such specially designed centrifuges are commonly known as disc stack centrifuges.
- Another important use of the centrifuge is in the separation of cream or fat from milk for the production of skimmed milk.
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