June, 2019 — starting a newly revamped BIOM1010 course, I was tasked with forming a team to design & prototype a low-cost medical centrifuge. After a frantic search around the Samuels building; home to biomedical students, I found five students I did not know to form Team 3. Katelinh Nguyen

After icebreakers with Dr Lauren Kark; academic lead of the UNSW EWH Chapter, our BIOM1010 project launched us into gaining a range of technical skills to solve global health challengesOur challenge was to develop a low-cost and accessible centrifuge. Our design brief was: 

“Design and build an inexpensive, battery-powered centrifuge that can be transported and endure various environments.” 

With potential designs and ideas brewing in our heads, we quickly had a flurry of discussions and prototypes. We succeeded by incorporating elements from all our designs and playing to our strengths. In our design we started with a bundt pan (Yes, you heard me the type of cake tin with a hole in it!) and then our team settled on using a combination of Arduino, CAD drawings, 3D printing and laser cutting to develop our centrifuge that complied with the design brief. Some of the challenges we faced included balancing the rotor precisely and exploring ways to efficiently clean the centrifuge. We decided to call it Thrifti and by the second tutorial, we had finished most of the centrifuge design! 

Our team performed exceptionally well, Thrifti was successfully prototyped and tested, and had fulfilled all the design specifications given. Later in October, Dr Kark asked us if we were interested in entering the EWH Design Competition. The last time UNSW entered in 2016, they had come first with the Uninterruptible Surgical Lamp design and in 2015, we got third place for our Multi-Colored LED Otoscope. Angus Noble, who was part of the winning team in 2016, was our mentor and assisted us with refining our report. He guided us with modifying the design such as redesigning the rotor to adapt to test tubes sizes and allowing the device to be both mains and battery-powered.  

As late May 2020 rolled in, we submitted our report and a video of our final product. After not too long waiting for the results and… surprise! Surprise! We placed second! While we couldn’t celebrate a win, we were still overjoyed. Looking back at the past year, we improved and grew as individuals especially with our problem-solving skills and time management.  

Big thanks to our mentors and lecturers that guided us through this journey such as; Adam Hudson; our tutor, a 2018–19 EWH Summer Institute alumni As for those five initial strangers from a year ago — William Hobbs, Aryan Bhatla, Joyce Jin, Minudi De Zoysa and Selena Chia — I could not ask for a better group of people to go through this journey with. They are all amazing teammates and great friends. 

Check out the constructed centrifuge in action: 

View the winning designs from the 2020 EWH Design Competition.