How ISRO plans to launch a record 103 satellites in one go in February 2017


The separation angle and the time of separation of the 103 satellites will be such that one satellite will not collide with another.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will set a record when it launches 103 satellites in one go on a single rocket in the first week of February. Explaining how all the satellites will be placed in orbit, Dr. K. Sivan, Director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, says: “The satellites will be separated from the launch vehicle in different directions. The separation angle and time of separation will be such that one satellite will not collide with another.”

The satellite separated from the launch vehicle will have a relative velocity of one metre per second. So, after 1,000 seconds the distance between a satellite and the rocket will be 1,000 metres. “The satellite that gets launched first will move at a relatively faster velocity than the next satellite that is launched. Due to different relative velocities, the distance between the satellites will increases continuously but the orbit will be the same,” he says.

“When the vehicle reaches the orbital condition, we will wait for the disturbances to die down before the preparation for separation begins,” he says. At an orbital altitude of around 500 km, it would take the vehicle 90 minutes to complete one orbit. “So we have sufficient time to launch all the 103 satellites,” he says.

Even one degree difference in separation angle combined with relative velocity will ensure that no two satellites would collide with each other. “The satellites will be injected into orbit at different locations at different angles, at different times and different orientations,” Dr. Sivan says.

In June last year, ISRO launched 20 satellites in one go. It took about 26 minutes to launch all the 20 satellites; in 2008, ISRO launched 10 satellites in a single mission. The highest number of satellites launched in a single mission so far has been 37 by Russia in 2014; NASA launched 29 satellites in one go in 2013.

ISRO’s workhorse PSLV-C37 with 103 satellites will be launched from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. Except for three satellites, the remaining satellites are from other countries. The 100 foreign satellites are micro-small satellites.

Published in The Hindu on January 21, 2017

Trump jolts science, gives anti-vax movement a booster dose


The mid to late 1960s U.S. Public Health Service announcement from the Office of the Surgeon General, William H. Stewart is particularly relevant today.

Anti-vax activists in the U.S. are already cheering. A presidential commission on vaccine safety (read a link between measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism) is setting the ground for further erosion of the merits of vaccination and instilling more fear and scepticism in the minds of the people.

On January 10, the well-known vaccine denier Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told the media that he has been asked to “chair a commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity”. Though the Trump team said no invitation has been issued, it did admit that President-elect Donald Trump was “exploring the possibility” of such a commission.

In August last year, Trump met the fraudulent British scientist Andrew Wakefield, who first made up the vaccine-autism connection in 1998 through a paper published in The Lancet.  He has been actively advocating the link despite his work being discredited and retracted in 2010. The BMJ exposed his fraud.

Trump and Kennedy are among a growing number of people who strongly believe in the link between MMR vaccine and autism despite several studies not finding any evidence to support the link.  A study published in 2015 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) involving nearly 96,000 children in the U.S. found that “receipt of the MMR vaccine was not associated with increased risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), regardless of whether older siblings had autism”.

A 2010 study found “no association of autism with either MMR or a single measles vaccine”. A 2002 study in The New England of Medicine involving more than half a million children found no link between vaccination and autism.  The study concluded: “There was no association between the age at the time of vaccination, the time since vaccination, or the date of vaccination and the development of autistic disorder.”


According to many, including Kennedy, thimerosal — a mercury-based preservative in multi-dose vial vaccines — was thought to be responsible for causing autism. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), thimerosal contains ethylmercury, which is cleared from the human body more quickly than methylmercury, and is therefore less likely to cause any harm. But most anti-vax people think thimerosal metabolises into methylmercury, which is wrong. The most common side-effects of thimerosal are minor reactions like redness and swelling at the site of injection. Although rare, some people may be allergic to thimerosal.

Many studies have failed to find a link between thimerosal and autism. In 2004, the Institute of Medicine said: “The committee concludes that the body of epidemiological evidence favours rejection of a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism. The committee also concludes that the body of epidemiological evidence favours rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.”

Beginning 2001, thimerosal was removed from almost all childhood vaccines. If the link between thimerosal and autism were indeed true there should have been a drop in the number of autism cases. Instead, autism rates continued to increase!

Never mind the evidence disproving the link between MMR vaccine and autism, with Trump and his administration strongly believing in the link, there is only one option left. “Scientists, medics and commentators who have fought vaccine disinformation in the past must take a deep breath and return to the fray. There is no need to wait for this commission to be announced officially. There is no need to wait until it issues its findings. There is no cause to be surprised if it shows little regard for science — or even if it targets scientists who speak out in favour of vaccination. Those who claim a link between vaccines and autism can do so only by discrediting the scientific evidence and, often, the scientists who gathered it. Kennedy’s reference to investigating vaccine safety “and scientific integrity” provides ample warning of what is to come. Scientists should get their retaliation in first. Lives are at stake,” a  Nature Editorial warns.

Here are some of the some of the tweets by Trump on vaccine-derived autism:



Will we see Jeffrey Beall’s predatory journal list in a new avatar?


Jeffrey Beall

Though the actual reason why Jeffrey Beall, who maintained a list of “potential, possible, or probable” publishers that produced predatory journals and another list of standalone predatory journals, took down his website is not known, RetractionWatch posted saying that it was Beall’s decision to take down his website. RetractionWatch has posted the statement it received from the University of Colorado Denver:

Jeffrey Beall, associate professor and librarian at the University of Colorado Denver, has decided to no longer maintain or publish his research or blog on open access journals and “predatory publishers.” CU Denver supports and recognizes the important work Professor Beall has contributed to the field and to scholars worldwide.  CU Denver also understands and respects his decision to take down his website at this time. Professor Beall remains on the faculty at the university and will be pursuing new areas of research.

On Facebook, his last post relating to predatory journals was on January 10, 2017. With his faculty page too taken down, the Facebook posts give a chance to see how he went about exposing the dark side of scientific publishing.

His Facebook post of January 4, 2017 tells how predatory journal publishing has been growing since 2011.beallBut it looks like Cabell International, a publishing services company, may soon start providing a black list of predatory journals. And it will start anytime during Spring 2017. Here’s a tweet mentioning that:

The Cabell’s tweet confirms what @Scholarlykitchn had tweeted earlier saying:

Cabell International then goes on to say that it is preparing a B-list with Beall being a consultant.

Does it indicate that it would no longer be a single person but an organisation that would be fighting the battle to expose the publishers of predatory journals and their journals? If the spirit of the organisation and its objectives are the same as what Beal stood for, it would surely be for the good of science and the scientific community.

And Lacey Earle, Vice President, Business Development of Cabell seems to be knowing the reasons why Beall had to take down his website:

Meanwhile, Emil Karlsson has posted the links to the cached copies of Dr. Baell’s lists.


Indian scientists to gain as India becomes Associate member state of CERN


Amandeep Singh Gill (left) Ambassador shaking hands with CERN Director General Dr. Fabiola Gianotti. Photo: Maximilien Brice/CERN

India became an Associate member of CERN on January 16, 2017 with the Indian government completing its internal approval procedures in respect of the agreement it had signed with CERN on November 21, 2016.

On November 21, 2016, Dr. Sekhar Basu, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and Secretary of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and Dr. Fabiola Gianotti, CERN Director General signed an Agreement to admit India to CERN as an Associate member. But India had to “notify CERN of its final approval for the Agreement to enter into force” and become an Associate member, which it did yesterday.

“As an Associate member, India will have full access to all data generated at CERN. As there are many experiments in CERN, there will be plenty of information available. When we were not an Associate member, India could get data only from those experiments where we were participating,” says Dr. Basu.

“As an Associate member, India can participate in all experiments. We may have to pay additional charges for participating in the experiments.  We can choose the experiments where India wants to participate,” he adds.

There are other benefits of becoming an Associate member. Whenever any CERN facility gets upgraded and goes through maintenance, it will provide opportunities for Indian industries to participate. “Indian industry will be entitled to bid for CERN contracts, which will allow it to work in areas of advanced technology. So the “Make in India” will get a boost due to CERN,” he says. “India will definitely be more competitive than others.”

Since Indian scientists will become eligible for staff appointments, it will enhance the participation of young scientists and engineers in operation and maintenance of various CERN projects. “Indian scientists and engineers working in CERN will learn how to operate and maintain the facilities. So when they return it will be useful for India,” Dr. Basu says.

India has to pay about Rs.40 crore a year as an Associate member. According to him, it is a small fee compared to the huge scientific and commercial benefits that India will stand to gain.

According to the release, being an Associate member will allow India to take part in meetings of the CERN Council and its committees (Finance Committee and Scientific Policy Committee).

India has been actively involved in CERN’s scientific activities for over 50 years. “Indian physicists, engineers and technicians have made substantial contributions to the construction of the LHC accelerator and to the ALICE and CMS experiments, as well as to accelerator R&D projects,” said Dr. Gianotti in a CERN release.


Dr. Fabiola Gianotti (left), CERN Director General and Dr. Sekhar Basu, Chairman of AEC signing the agreement in November last year. Photo: CERN

In 1991, India and CERN signed a Cooperation Agreement, setting priorities for scientific and technical cooperation. India and CERN have signed several other protocols since then. But India’s involvement in CERN began in the 1960s with researchers from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai participating in experiments at CERN. In the 1990s scientists from Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology, Indore too got involved in CERN experiment.  Researchers from TIFR, Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology and other institutes built components for an accelerator (LEP) and detectors (L3, WA93 and WA89). India was granted Observer status to the CERN Council in 2002.

The CERN convention was signed in 1953 by the 12 founding states — Belgium, Denmark, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Yugoslavia. Currently, CERN has 22 member states. Besides India, Turkey, Pakistan, Ukraine are Associate members and Serbia and Cyprus are associate members in the pre-stage to membership.

Published in the Hindu on January 17, 2017

India’s white list to curb researchers from publishing in predatory journals


The UGC’s white list should be adopted by CSIR, IMCR, ICAR, IITs, IISERs and NITs as well.

In a bid to tackle the growing menace of researchers publishing in predatory journals, the University Grants Commission notified on January 10 a list of journals in different disciplines where researcher scholars and teachers can publish their papers. Only papers published in the approved journals will be recognised at the time of recruitment and for granting points (under the Academic Performance Indicators (API) system) to teachers in colleges and universities at the time of assessment for promotion. “This is a dynamic list which may be reviewed from time to time,” says the notification.

The list was approved by the Standing Committee constituted by the UGC last year. The list contains 38,653 journals (list-1, list-2, list-3, list-4 and list-5). The list of journals in each subject was identified by subject expert committees and sent to the Standing Committee for final approval.

“This is only a tentative list.  The list of journals was taken from Scopus. Lists of journals sent for consideration by different universities are yet to be taken into consideration. We will do it shortly,” says Satish Kumar, Under Secretary, UGC, Delhi. “The list mainly covers different fields in science. Journals in social science and humanities are yet to be included.”

The UGC had taken up the mammoth task of preparing a white list of approved journals to curb researchers from publishing in predatory journals. India is home to the largest number of predatory or bogus journals and growing number of researchers from State and private universities have been publishing in such journals.

Predatory journals rarely peer-review manuscripts and publish even sub-standard manuscripts that contain plagiarised content and falsified and fabricated data. Predatory journals rarely index papers with standard indexing bodies and are more focussed on article processing fees.

predatory-optimizedA recent study in the journal Current Science found that 51 per cent of papers published in predatory journals were by researchers from colleges affiliated to universities and autonomous colleges. Even researches from private universities/institutes (18 per cent), State universities (15 per cent) and national institutes such as ICAR, ICMR, CSIR institutes, IITs and IISERs (11 per cent) had published in predatory journals.

“The main objective of preparing the list is to discourage researchers from publishing in predatory journals,” Mr. Kumar says. “Though government institutions, IITs, IISERs and NITs don’t come under the purview of UGC, it is up to those institutions to adopt this list. If they wish they can use this list at the time of recruitment and promotion.”

While predatory journals have been mushrooming at an alarming rate in India, research scholars and teachers have been publishing their work in such journals to meet the UGC’s stipulation — at the time of recruitment candidates should have published two research papers from his/her Ph.D. work, of which at least one must be in a refereed journal. Similarly, points awarded for publishing papers in journals with different impact factors (between 1 and above 10) are taken into account while considering a person for promotion. With publishers of predatory journals giving themselves meaningless impact factors, those publishing in such journals were able to meet the requirement for recruitment and/or promotion. Predatory journals are by rule open access journals.


Jeffrey Beall’s blog shuts down

Luckily, the UGC has come up with the list at a time when Prof. Jeffrey Beall’s blog (Scholarly Open Access), which had a long list of confirmed and suspect predatory journals that any serious researcher can stay away from, has shut down. “Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn’t here,” says a message posted on his blog. He has 6,750 followers.

Prof. Beall, who is a Scholarly Communications Librarian at Auraria Library, University of Colorado, Denver, was the first to coin the term “predatory journals”. He had single-handedly highlighted the ways in which predatory journals have been trapping innocent researchers and providing a platform for dubious manuscripts to be published.

Though many publishers have been bitter with him for exposing them, his efforts have been well appreciated by many in the scientific community, especially those who were genuinely not aware of the ways of predatory journals. The reason why the blog content is missing is not known and I am yet to hear from him?

Meanwhile, it appears that Jeffrey Beall’s predatory journal list and list of publishers of such journals will soon reappear in a new avatar.

India should show sustained commitment to science: Venkatraman Ramakrishnan


The  culture of innovation has to be cultivated, says Nobel Laureate Venkatraman Ramapkrishnan. – Photo: R. Prasad

In an hour-long interview, Nobel Laureate Prof. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, who called the Indian Science Congress a “circus”, discussed the implications of some of the Indian government policies on science and technology. He summarily rejects the idea of scientists needing permission from directors before discussing the results of a public-funded, published work with the media or public. He is optimistic that India can be a science powerhouse by 2030 if it does the right things. He was the chief guest at the Infosys Prize 2016 award ceremony held in Bengaluru on January 7. Excerpts.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said India will be among the top three countries in science and technology by 2030. Do you think it is at all possible given the low funding and priority for science in India?

It’s true that R&D funding is low [in India] but I think that these things can be changed. You can invest in R&D and encourage much more private R&D. The government investment may be low but private funding is much lower. I think the culture of innovation has to be cultivated.

I heard many of the talks at the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance. They were of the calibre that scientists could have been at some place in the west for the kind of work they are doing. The government structure of the India Alliance is quite efficient. You get the fellowship money on time and there is flexibility. If scientists want to do innovative work they need flexibility and they need the money to show up on time.

I have heard that the governance of the India Alliance is slowly filtering into other agencies. If this culture spreads administration of science will become efficient. People should be given enough autonomy and they need to be well funded at a young age, when they are creative and bold.

There is no reason why India couldn’t become a stronger science power. Demography is in its favour. So if it does the right things between now and 2030 we don’t have an idea what’s possible. But it requires a sustained commitment to science, requires very good governance of science, flexibility and autonomy for investigators.

CSIR labs have been asked to generate half of their funds. Do you think this will be possible considering the low private R&D spending in India?

CSIR labs have been funded for decades and to make a sudden transition is going to be really quite difficult. I don’t see how that can be done. But they can be encouraged to get more of their funding from the industry. They were originally set up to help the industry. People in the west do it all the time. But the transition cannot be abrupt. Industry also should be open to collaboration. Industry should also take advantage of expertise. A lot of industries in India are still at a stage of implementing technologies developed elsewhere. That’s my impression.

China is still not as innovative as the west. But China was not so innovative 20 years ago. As countries grow economically and start investing in R&D that will help in maintaining economic strengths.

If you are going to be among the top science countries by 2030 it requires sustained commitment. China had sustained commitment. Singapore and especially South Korea have very sustained commitment to R&D. Without that it is not going to happen.

At the same time, CSIR labs have been asked to focus its resources to meet the social and economic objectives of the government. Do you see inconsistency in policy?

In Britain all governments in the last 100 years have subscribed to some extent to what is called the Haldane principle. What that means is that it is the right of the elected government to set overall priorities. However, it is usually done in consultation with scientists to see what’s feasible. Nobody elected scientists so scientists can’t decide whatever they want to do with the money. The government has a right to set an overall priority. But having set priorities, it is not for the government to tell scientists how they should be doing things. They shouldn’t be interfering in the implementation of the goals.

If you want to broad base science, you should spend on basic research. You cannot spend all your money on applied science because applied science depends on the knowledge of basic science. Basic science also develops the knowhow of future.

If you have no basic scientists in India you won’t even be able to take up new technology even if they are developed in the west. So you need a certain amount of basic science.

How do you think the menace of predatory journals can be tackled, especially since India is home to most of these bogus journals and many scientists even from government institutions publish in these journals?

The whole issue of predatory journals is a difficult one. We had a meeting of the Royal Society, the French Academy and the German Academy. The three academies issued a statement on publishing. We have deplored the rise of predatory journals.

It is the job of the [institutional] review committee, heads of departments and senior colleagues to discourage it. It all depends on good governance. It will be difficult to do away with predatory journals. It will be difficult to prove in a court of law. Better would be to have good review process.

On the other end is the pressure to publish in Science, Nature and Cell, what I call as high-impact vanity journals. People are taking shortcuts to publish papers in these journals. So that’s also creating very bad pressures. If you publish in a good, solid journal, if it is a nice piece of work it shouldn’t matter that it is not in some high-impact journals. It’s the failure of the system to evaluate the work rather than where it is published.

Scientists in many government institutions, some IITs and IISERs need the director’s permission before discussing their published work with the media. Do you subscribe to the idea that scientists should be free to communicate the results of a public-funded work to the public?

Some scientists are very poor communicators. And it wouldn’t be a good idea to force every scientist to be a communicator. Some people are best left alone to do their work and some others are good communicators and they should be encouraged. Scientists as a community owe it to the public to explain why public money is spent for various things; it is a duty to communicate to the public. But it is not reasonable to force every scientist to be involved in communication. So we need to be a bit flexible.

But scientists should be free to talk to the media or public about their work. In the U.K., if you are representing your organisation’s views, and it goes for me as well if I am representing the Royal Society’s views, it has to be cleared. But I can certainly talk as an individual about my work, especially published work. There is no reason why someone should give permission for scientists to talk about their work, unless there is some issue like if the information is classified or has security implications. For example, the institute may be in the process of filing a patent. In that case they can’t talk to the press. But if the work is already published then there is no reason why they should not talk freely. In the case of published work, I would have no problem discussing with the press.

You did mention in an interview last July that scientists in leadership positions would convene to work out a coherent response to Brexit even before a new cabinet was in place. How successful has the scientific community been in conveying its the concerns to the government?

We had a number of interactions with the government. We have had some success in that we have managed to make a case to the government on various policies. The first was we were concerned that U.K.-based scientists would be disadvantaged in applying for EU-based programmes for fellowship, grant etc. Because many if these are five-year grants and if Britain were to leave after two years the granting panel may say why should we fund this person as we don’t know what will happen after two years. So very quickly the Chancellor announced that the U.K government ill underwrite all British applicants for the full duration of the fellowship. That was a very positive step. The EU funding agencies don’t have to worry that the person is from the U.K. It can decide the case on merit and the U.K. component will be funded regardless of what happens.

The other thing that happened is in the Autumn statement the Chancellor announced a very significant increase in funding [up to £2 billion a year by 2020] for science and technology. It was one of the largest increases in recent times in science funding. This is really important because if Britain is going to leave the EU then it has to succeed based on an innovation-based economy.

What about the mobility issue, particularly of scientists?

EU citizens based in Britain should simply be allowed to stay. There we don’t have any firm statement because the government doesn’t want to act unilaterally as there are a lot of British in continental Europe. But the government has made it clear that during the negotiation as long as the EU allows British people to stay in the EU then the U.K. government would reciprocate.

I would prefer the government to make a strong unilateral statement right away because 30 per cent of staff are foreigners and half of them come from the EU. A strong statement that they don’t have to worry would reassure them. Otherwise, there is a danger that they might decide to leave. Talking to various government officials, there is a sentiment even among ministers who are pro-Brexit that they definitely want free movement of talent if not a free movement for everybody. They also feel that EU citizens staying in the U.K. will not be a problem.

Will the U.K. continue to be a part of the major EU programmes?

We would argue that the idea of the U.K. science community is to continue participation in the EU programmes. Whether we are able to do so or not depends on how the negotiations go. But the government is taking the views of the science community into account in preparation for the negotiations.

I see several scenarios. One is things continue as they are. Another is we become a third country and bind into these programmes. What we wouldn’t want is to bind the programmes and not lead the consortia. Currently, the U.K. is a strong science country and many consortia are led by U.K.-based scientists. So if we were to only participate and not be leaders that would be suboptimal. The last option if all else fails is we have a U.K. fund that is separate and replicates much of what we get through the EU programmes. We could have programmes for collaboration with EU and we have collaborations worldwide and not just the EU. I wouldn’t say there is all gloom and doom. I think we should be agile and forward thinking about how we go about.

Published in The Hindu on January 15, 2017

A hand-held, 20 cents paper centrifuge can revolutionise global health


Images of a rotating paperfuge captured using a high-speed camera.  It shows a succession of wound (top), unwound (middle) and re-wound (bottom) states.

Manu Prakash, Stanford University professor who had earlier built the less than a dollar foldscope — a paper microscope that can be used for diagnosing blood-borne diseases such as malaria, African sleeping sickness and Chagas — has now developed another ultra-low cost device that can revolutionise public health.

The human-powered paper centrifuge, which can attain a maximum speed of up to 1,25,000 revolutions per minute (RPM), could enable simple blood tests for diseases such as malaria for just 20 cents. The paper centrifuge can separate pure plasma from whole blood in less than 90 seconds and isolate malaria parasites in 15 minutes. The power-free centrifuges have the potential to become point-of-care diagnostics in resource-poor settings.

The results were published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering. Prof. Prakash is the corresponding author of the paper.

Centrifuges are routinely used for analysing the concentration of pathogens and parasites in blood, urine and stool, and is the first step in detecting diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases. Commercially available centrifuges need electricity and are expensive. This prompted Prof. Praksh to look for alternatives.

After trying several other items including the yo-yos and tops, the breakthrough came in early 2016 when Saad Bhamla from the Department of Bioengineering at Stanford University and the first author of the paper tried a button whirligig. He realised the potential of the whirligig as a centrifuge when a high speed camera clocked the speed of the button at 10,000-15,000 rpms. “One night I was playing with a button and string, and out of curiosity, I set up a high-speed camera to see how fast a button whirligig would spin. I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Bhamla says in a press release about the speed at which the button was spinning.

The paper centrifuge or “paperfuge”, as Prof. Prakash calls it, is the improvised whirligig — circular discs spun by pulling the strings passing through two holes in the discs.

img_0415The paperfuge spins at very high rpm by going through winding and unwinding phases. The disc unwinds when the strings are pulled; since there is no force applied during the winding phase it allows the inertia of the disc to rewind the strings. Since the strings are very flexible they wind beyond a point that the string gets into a tightly packed supercoiled state and the spinning stops. At this point when the string is pulled outwards they unwind and spin the disc in the opposite direction.

Though commercial centrifuges spin only in one direction, same results can be achieved when the paperfuge spins in one direction, stops and then spins in the reverse direction. Prof. Prakash is confident that performance-wise the paperfuge can match centrifuges that cost $1,000-5,000. “The simplicity of manufacturing our proposed device will enable immediate mass distribution of a solution urgently needed in the field,” they write. It is yet one more example of frugal science “leveraging the complex physics of a simple toy for global health applications”.

“There are more than a billion people around the world who have no infrastructure, no roads, no electricity. I realized that if we wanted to solve a critical problem like malaria diagnosis, we needed to design a human-powered centrifuge that costs less than a cup of coffee,” Prakash says in the release.

Health-care implications

The paperfuge can separate red blood cells from plasma in about 90 seconds and cost about 20 cents. The paperfuge with two capillaries loaded with blood samples had a maximum speed of 20,000 rpm. The haematocrit (volume percentage of RBCs in blood) value obtained was in “good agreement” with control experiments carried out for 120 seconds on a commercial electric centrifuge. The commercially available centrifuge has a speed of 16,000 rpm.

Prof. Prakash and his team used the paperfuge to test blood samples containing malaria parasites.  The Plasmodium falciparum parasitemia present in 30 microlitre of blood sample could be isolated from blood samples in 15 minutes. They went a step further by using capillaries precoated with acridine orange dye; the malaria parasites glow under fluorescent microscopy making the identification easy and simple.

Prof. Prakash in collaboration with nonprofit health care Pivot based in Boston is all set to test the paperfuge in a region of rural Madagascar in full-scale trials in March. “I would guess that 90 per cent of labs in Madagascar don’t have a working centrifuge. If it works this could be a game changer,” Pivot co-CEO Matthew Bonds told Science.

“The simplicity and robustness of the paperfuge device makes it possible to design and construct devices from materials beyond paper, including wood, plastic and polymers,” they write. The authors printed lightweight prototypes of 3D-fuges using 3D printer.  These with a maximum rpm of 10,000 “opens up opportunities to mas-manufacture millions of centrifuges using injection-moulding techniques”.