When it comes to frivolous gadgets, fidget spinners would seem to be one of the most … well, frivolous. Recently, however, scientists from National Taiwan University discovered that the devices could be used for blood sample analysis in impoverished regions.

Fidget spinners generally consists of three weighted lobes, with a bearing in the middle. To burn off nervous energy, users hold them by the bearing, and spin the lobes with their fingers.

Another thing that spins is a centrifuge, which utilizes centrifugal force to separate plasma from blood cells when testing blood samples – plasma contains the proteins, viruses and other substances which indicate the presence of disease. Centrifuges can be costly, though, and require a power source. These factors limit their use in developing countries or remote locations.

With that in mind, Chien-Fu Chen, Chien-Cheng Chang and colleagues set out to see if a fidget spinner could serve the same purpose. In order to do so, they placed human blood samples in three small tubes, sealed the ends of those tubes, then taped them to each of the three lobes of a spinner.

It was found that by flicking the device with a finger and letting it spin three to five times, it was possible to separate around 30 percent of the plasma with 99 percent purity. The whole process took just four to seven minutes. The separated plasma was subsequently subjected to a paper-based test, in which HIV-1 protein that had been added to the blood was successfully detected.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

Several years ago, students at Rice University discovered that a salad spinner could also be used as a cheap, human-powered alternative to a blood centrifuge.

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