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Airplane Whirligig

Smithsonian American Art Museum

American Flag Whirligig

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Boys Twister

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.
Toy (Boga). A bone wrapped with sinew and connected to two short wooden handles by a length of twisted sinew. 3.75" (10 cm). Records: Toy twister. The name refers to the buzzing sound. The bone is made to spin around with the twisting and untwisting of the sinew. Bad specimen: the bone should be smaller. (C). (from Merrill, William L. et al. 1997. A Guide to the Kiowa Collections at the Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology, no. 40. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.)

Buzz Childs Toy

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

Buzz Or Whirr "Im-Ig-Luk-Ta"

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

Buzz, A Toy

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

Buzz-Toy Of Wood

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

Dan Quayle Trips Over His Words

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Enjoy Face Time with Seven of Earth's 3 to 5 Million Mite Species

Smithsonian Magazine

Because there is no polite way to ask a mite to sit still for its portrait, Gary Bauchan often gives his tiny subjects a shot of liquid nitrogen instead. At -321 degrees Fahrenheit (-196 Celsius) these fidgety eight-legged arachnids are flash frozen. Bauchan then zooms in for a close-up.

Many of the mite species imaged with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s state-of-the-art scanning electron microscope have been on Earth for millions of years. In most instances Bauchan and USDA Entomologist Ron Ochoa are the very first humans to ever see the grotesque yet remarkable features of their bodies and faces.

Mites are everywhere, Ochoa points out. Almost every species of beetle, bird, snake, plant and ant (and everything else, it seems) has between one and four associated species of mites. Mites live in soil, in caves, on us, in the treetops, and even in the water. They’re some of the toughest pests to manage on some of the most economically important crops. Sixty thousand mite species are known to science yet experts estimate the world is crawling with as many as three to five million species.

In his Beltsville, Maryland, research facility, Ochoa oversees a collection of some one-million mite specimens representing 10,000 species. Mounted on glass slides, the mite collection is owned and maintained by the department of entomology of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Here, Ochoa and Bauchan share images of a few of the many new mites that are being discovered each year. “We want to take close-up shots of the faces of these mites,” Ochoa says. “The way you see your mother, your father, your family and your friends and say hello is the way we want to say hello to the mites, face to face.”

Family Anystidae (unnamed species)

Image by Gary Bauchan. Family Anystidae (unnamed species) (original image)

Image by Gary Bauchan. Family Anystidae (unnamed species) (original image)

Family Anystidae (unnamed species) Some members of this mite family are among the fastest animals in the world relative to their size. Also called “whirligig mites” for their peculiar style of running, one of the more familiar members of this family include the itch-inducing chigger. This mite—so new to science that it is still unclassified at the species and genus level—is a vivid red to orange predator with large, bristly bunny-ear shaped claws that it uses to grip the surface of leaves while searching for prey. “It’s like a super-Nike shoe for running, but this mite invented them millions of years before humans,” Ochoa says. Ochoa and Cal Welbourn, a mite expert at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, are working to understand the biology of this mite family of mites with hope that one day it may help control mite pests of tree-fruit crops.

Michaelia neotropica

Michaelia neotropica (Gary Bauchan)

Michaelia neotropica This fine mustachioed fellow is a feather mite, with the handlebar on either side of its mouthparts adapted to lay closely against a cormorants’s feathers and literally suck the trash away. Discovered in Brazil by Fabio A. Hernandes, the rough, reptilian texture of the top of this mite’s mouthparts is thought to help with cleaning, like a bird-based Roomba. Found on neotropic cormorants (Phalacrocorax brasilianus), males of the species are asymmetrical, with elongated legs on one side of their bodies. One theory is this allows males to anchor themselves firmly between feather barbs while mating.

Genus Mononychellus, (unnamed species)

Image by Gary Bauchan. Genus Mononychellus (unnamed species) (original image)

Image by Gary Bauchan. Genus Mononychellus (unnamed species) (original image)

Genus Mononychellus (unnamed species) Like finding money on the street, so many new mite discoveries are made through simple chance. While waiting for a bus in 2014, Peruvian entomologist Javier Huanca Maldonado looked to his left and noticed trees with yellow discoloration. He collected some leaves and found this new species of spider mite, still undescribed at the species level. It pierces leaves to suck their juices with a sharp stylet that emerges from a hole in the middle of its face, making it a likely agricultural pest. Yellow gunk on the face of Mononychellus is leaf tissue and dust.

Novophytoptus juncus

Image by Gary Bauchan. Novophytoptus juncus (original image)

Image by Gary Bauchan. Novophytoptus juncus (original image)

Novophytoptus juncus What lovely eyes you have! Whoops, think again: that’s actually the hind end of this mite, which feeds on rushes. “It’s just mooned you,” Ochoa says. Those two bulbous structures actually work like pseudolegs, and are located at the end of the opisthosoma, upon which the mite stands to catch a breeze and drift off in search of a new grassy host. More than 6,000 species of this family of mites are known, each host-specific. So wherever it is floating through the air, it must land upon the plant host it requires or move on. This mite family also claims two other superlatives: they’re Earth’s smallest arthropods, 80 to 120 microns in size—about the width of two human hairs—and are the oldest mite known, having been found encased in fossilized amber.

Oligonychus grypus

Image by Gary Bauchan. Oligonychus grypus (original image)

Image by Gary Bauchan. Oligonychus grypus (original image)

Oligonychus grypus Found in a greenhouse in Clewiston, Florida, in 2002, this red spider mite is thought to be native to The Republic of Congo (Zaire), and may have come to the United States through Asia or Brazil. Ochoa calls it a “scary but nice” gargoyle—though not so sweet, as it is an effective destroyer of sugar cane, puncturing the undersides of leaves to feed. The leaves later turn red and die. Its U.S. population is increasing rapidly, making it a subject of intense study. Ochoa and Bauchan captured this live image with a low-temperature scanning electron microscope, which allows them to understand the mite’s mouthparts move. “We captured him talking,” Ochoa says.

Trachymolgus purpureus

Image by Gary Bauchan. Trachymolgus purpureus (original image)

Image by Gary Bauchan. Trachymolgus purpureus (original image)

Trachymolgus purpureus No false color here: this brilliant purple hue is this mite’s actual color. Collected in the 1980s in Buffalo National River and Devil’s Den State Park in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, this unusually stocky, sturdy mite was described and named in 2015 by a team of University of Arkansas and USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists. It has subsequently been found in Ohio and along the St. Lawrence River, as well. Temperature tolerant, it has been observed crawling on rock faces in full sun, and when exposed to liquid nitrogen (-321 F,) to immobilize it for photographing, T. purpureus “would simply run, curl their legs, and roll off the plate. This made imaging live specimens very difficult,” write the scientists who named it.

Neocarus proteus

Image by Gary Bauchan. Neocarus proteus (original image)

Image by Gary Bauchan. Neocarus proteus (original image)

Neocarus proteus Bauchan and Ochoa calls this mite Goat Man. His ‘hands’ are an appendage called rutella each with five ‘teeth’ that help this predatory Brazilian mite hold tight onto other squirming mites as it eats them. N. proteus is found in iron-rich caves and soils in southeastern Brazil, and is from a primitive order. “They are cool mites, very colorful some of them,” Ochoa adds. As with nearly all mite species, little is known about their behavior, development or other aspects of their biology.

This article was orginally published on Smithsonian Insider.

Going Buggy at the New Audubon Museum

Smithsonian Magazine

The historic U.S. Custom House in New Orleans is teeming with pests—ants, termites, beetles, spiders and more. The place is infested, but in this case most folks couldn’t be happier. A year ago, a section of this 160-year-old Greek revival building on Canal Street was transformed into the Audubon Nature Institute’s goal is to exalt these tiny creatures and show how vital they are to our ecosystem.

“If all were to disappear,” famed entomologist Edward O. Wilson wrote in 1992, “humanity would probably not last more than a few months. …The land surface would literally rot.” Insects dispose of our waste; they pollinate our crops. They aerate the soil and recycle nutrients.

“Insects are often misunderstood,” says Insectarium entomologist Jayme Necaise. “People think they’re icky and gross. We want to change their minds about insects.” And that even includes getting visitors to eat a few of the critters.

The museum’s 70 educational and often whimsical live exhibitions cover more than 23,000 square feet of the Custom House. Exploring them is an up-close interactive experience that occasionally may become a bit uncomfortable for the very squeamish. You can face off against a 15-foot animatronic centipede, get a whiff of a whirligig beetle’s defensive odor, walk atop a scorpion pit, peer into the core of a termite-infested tree or stick your head into grocery store mock-up where roaches are crawling all over the products. The tabletops in the museum café are glass display cases housing giant tarantulas, silkworms or other insects that creep and crawl in full view just beneath your lunch.

A film spoofing Hollywood’s Oscars honors exceptional insects—best bug in a supporting role goes to the hardworking honeybee. In addition to making honey, bees pollinate a large percentage of the earth’s food plants. And to help visitors really feel that they’re in the presence of insects, the theater’s simulation seats deliver a few pokes and tickles and a puff of insect odor. In the Bug Hall of Fame, visitors learn some fascinating factoids: that a male horsefly was once estimated to be going about 90 miles per hour; that one type of midge beats its wings almost 63,000 times per minute; that the spittlebug can leap 28 inches in the air, with a force 400 times greater than gravity.

A Louisiana swamp exhibition is devoted to local insects, showcasing water scorpions, whirligig beetles, velvet ants, and lubber grasshoppers. Apparently, insects play a role in hurricane defense, surely a topic of great importance to the people of New Orleans, who have endured Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav in the last four years. Insects recycle nutrients by decomposing dead animals and vegetation to help maintain healthy coastal wetlands, which act as a buffer to the surge of water that accompanies a hurricane.

One room is filled with dazzling preserved specimens, arrayed fancifully in display cases. “We call them ‘wow’ bugs,” says museum manager Zack Lemann. “There’s a lot of eye candy.” Here are hundreds of brilliantly colored beetles of several varieties. There is also a pair of Queen Alexandra's birdwings, “the rarest butterfly in the world," according to Lemann. "It lays its eggs on one type of vine on the side of one mountain in Papua New Guinea." The specimens were collected in 1917, and the female’s wingspan is nearly a foot wide. In the next room, the Metamorphosis Gallery, you can watch live adult butterflies emerging from hundreds of hanging chrysalises. And further on, in a serene, beautiful Japanese Garden, several hundred butterflies—blue morphos, zebra longwings, swallowtails, and others—flutter freely from plant to plant, sometimes perching on visitors.

Should you want a closer encounter, stop by the “Bug Appetit” buffet to sample cuisine concocted from insects. “Our chef Kevin whips up some mean cricket beignets—fried dough with crickets,” says Necaise. “It adds a nice little nutty flavor.” Also on the menu are “chocolate chirp cookies,” “buggy banana bread,” and “crispy Cajun crickets.” For Thanksgiving, Bug Appetit’s chefs made a turkey with waxworm stuffing and mealworm cranberry sauce. Lemann admits it’s often difficult to persuade visitors to “expand their gastronomic horizons.” We happily eat crustaceans, he points out, which are “the closest relative to insects on the planet.”

A chef stands before a stove, stirring a skillet of something with a vaguely Chinese food aroma. A French cookbook called Delicieux Insectes: Les Proteines du Futur sits at the edge of the stove. As he spoons out waxworms sautéed in Asian spices, I politely decline and move on to other fare. I finally manage to nibble a tiny, apple-and-cinnamon flavored cricket. It tastes like Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. Moments later, I am outdone by an eager 10-year-old, who scarfs down a sliced bagel topped with plump caterpillars.

I’m impressed by the kid’s intrepid palate, but I wonder if he’s consuming future monarchs or blue morphos. Not to worry, Lemann says later. Those tasty larvae were destined to become plain brown moths.

Watch this video in the original article

Hiller Model 1031-A-1 Flying Platform

National Air and Space Museum
One-man, twin-engine, flying platform with two counter-rotating rotors turning on vertical axis inside ducted fan.

In the mid-1950s, Hiller constructed a series of innovative Flying Platforms for an Army-Navy program as a one-man flying vehicle that the pilot could control with minimal training. The pilot simply leaned in the desired direction and the platform would follow. The platforms, which utilized the aerodynamic advantages of the ducted fan, were incapable of tumbling, because if the pilot leaned over too far, the platform would pitch up and slow down.

The 1031-A-1 is the second of the Flying Platform prototypes and was the first to operate out of ground effect (aerodynamic cushion caused by thrust hitting the ground). The Army contracted for a larger, improved model - the VZ-1 - but the extra engines required for redundancy if the primary failed made the platform so heavy that it was impossible for the pilot to control the craft kinesthetically (by leaning), defeating the purpose of the design.

Fan Diameter (x2):2.13 m (7 ft) each

Platform Diameter:2.54 m (8 ft 4 in)

Height: 2.13 m (7 ft)

Weight:Empty, 168 kg (370 lb)

Gross, 252 kg (555 lb)

Engine:2 x Nelson H-59 two-cycle engines, 40 hp each

Top Speed:26 km/h (16 mph)

Manufacturer:Hiller Aircraft, Palo Alto, Ca.,1957

Hiller Flying Platform (Model 1031-A-1)

During the 1950s the U.S. armed forces were desperately seeking ways to improve the mobility of their troops on battlefields that were subject to attack by nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Small, one-man helicopters were seen as a possible alternative to large, piston powered helicopters that seemed to be at the limit of their development. The military's greatest technical hurdle was to develop an aircraft that was relatively safe and could easily be flown by a combat infantryman. Stanley Hiller, founder and president of Hiller Helicopters, had built a successful business, founded on innovative approaches to helicopter design, and was more than willing to undertake the challenge. Although the flying platforms that resulted from the company's efforts proved to be an aerodynamic dead end, Hiller did demonstrate the practicality of the ducted fan for more conventional forms of Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) aircraft.

In the late 1940s, noted aeronautical engineer Charles Zimmerman, who had made a name for himself developing Vought's V-173 "Flying Pancake" (see NASM collection), began to develop a new approach to vertical flight. He hypothesized that if a small horizontal platform, with a person balancing on top as on a bicycle, was lifted upward by a vertical thrust vector, then the pilot's innate kinesthetic responses would stabilize the platform and also allow it to be controlled in pitch in roll. Although the high center of gravity of such a configuration would seem to result in severe instability, Zimmerman's theory proved correct. If the platform began to tilt in one direction, then the pilot would naturally lean in the other direction to remain upright. This natural balancing tendency would place the center of gravity above the thrust axis, which would result in an upward pitching moment that counteracted the toppling action, thus maintaining a stable condition. The pilot could control the aircraft simply by leaning in the desired direction and the platform would begin to tilt and gain forward momentum. As the aircraft was controlled by instinct, a person could fly it with minimal training, making it ideal for use by soldiers in the field.

Zimmerman set out to construct a flying platform to prove his hypotheses. His first effort consisted of two small target drone engines mounted vertically to the sides of a small steel-tube truss. The pilot was to stand on the truss holding an attached pole. Control for the contraption, nicknamed the "Flying Shoes," was accomplished entirely by weight shifting against the pole. The Flying Shoes suffered instability problems because the engines provided unequal thrust. Stanley Hiller heard about this experiment and was greatly intrigued. In 1948, Zimmerman made a deal that allowed Hiller Helicopters to continue development, while he returned to his old aeronautical engineering position at the NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, forerunner of NASA) laboratory in Langley, Virginia.

Unfortunately, Hiller's first successful production helicopter, the UH-12, demanded the company's complete attention and the Flying Shoes were quickly set aside. In the meantime Zimmerman convinced his peers of the merits of his theories and with official support, began to develop new experimental kinesthetically controlled flying platforms. The first of these efforts used compressed air channeled through attached fire hoses for thrust, while the second, known as the Whirligig (see NASM collection), used a compressed air-driven propeller on the underside of a lightweight platform to generate thrust. These developments proved to be extremely easy to fly and were stable in flight, although the larger and heavier Whirligig proved to be less stable and more difficult to control than its predecessor.

The military finally began to take notice of Zimmerman's experiments and issued contracts for the construction of prototypes. On September 17, 1953, the Army initiated contracts with De Lackner and Hiller for kinesthetically-controlled flying platforms. As the Office of Naval Research had pre-existing research programs with Hiller, its leadership agreed to manage the program on behalf of the Army. Engineers from both companies then visited the NACA test facilities to view Zimmerman's progress.

De Lackner's approach for their DH-4 Aerocycle (HZ-1) was to have the pilot stand atop a large coaxial rotor system. This arrangement was stable and performed well, but any concept that forced the pilot to stand on the airborne equivalent of a food processor with nothing to prevent inadvertent contact with the rotors was unlikely to generate much enthusiasm. Hiller's engineers went back to Zimmerman's original patent application for his Flying Shoes, in which the rotors were to have been located in what he termed as "venturi rings." These consisted of airfoil profiles formed into a circle. The venturi ring would soon become known as a ducted fan. The ducted fan's airfoil accelerated the airflow into the rotors, increasing thrust to a level approximately 40 percent greater than an unducted propeller of the same diameter. Hiller's solved the Flying Shoes' problem of asymmetric thrust by mounting the counter-rotating propellers co-axially. The Model 1031 used two engines, each directly driving one of the rotors inside the 1.52 m (5 ft) diameter duct.

By September 1954, construction had been completed on the Model 1031, which consisted of a fiberglass duct and steel-tube platform. Initial flights were made by Hiller's chief test pilot, Philip T. Johnston. Because there was little to protect the pilot in the event of an engine failure or loss of control, he was tethered to a high wire suspended between two towers. The Model 1031 proved relatively stable, and easy to handle when hovering. A natural self-correcting tendency in forward flight was noted. This occurred because the forward lip of the duct would generate more lift than the trailing edge causing an upward pitching moment. Unfortunately, while this made the platform almost impossible to topple, it also limited the forward speed to a mere 26 kph (16 mph), and resulted in erratic handling in windy conditions.

Hiller engineers realized that an engine failure on either of the engines would result in a catastrophic loss of control. Thus, a new transmission was installed that allowed the combined power of both engines to power the rotors so that if an engine failure occurred, a rapid descent would occur, but no loss of control. This improved design used the same components as the original platform and was designated as the Model 1031-A. On the Model 1031, differential braking on the rotors had controlled yaw, but with the combined transmission, this was no longer an option, so a pair of movable vanes was placed in the ducted fan's inflow to provide a new mechanism for yaw control.

The Model 1031-A could not operate out of ground effect because of its limited thrust. Hiller engineers determined that loading on the fixed-pitch rotors' was too high and that the only solution was to use longer rotor blades, which necessitated construction of a larger platform, designated the Model 1031-A-1. By this time, the Department of the Army, dissatisfied with De Lackner's progress, had begun to take over control of Hiller's Navy contract. The new platform, with 2.13 m (7 ft) diameter rotors, which first flew on November 20, 1957, was able to operate successfully out of ground effect, but a new problem was encountered. The increased weight of the platform lowered the center of gravity to the level that kinesthetic control was greatly impaired. Hiller engineers attempted to correct this by raising the pilot's platform. However, controllability was still a problem since the total weight of the platform had increased to the stage where weight shift alone could not insure an adequate level of stability or control. The solution to this was the addition of a gyro-stabilization system that used aerodynamic servos similar to those that Hiller had used on the UH-12. The new system, which was linked to four control vanes in the outflow, improved stability in the hover significantly. The most dramatic illustration of the new system occurred when an Army sniper was able to aim and fire his rifle while hovering in free flight, without any thought to aircraft control. However, in forward flight in anything but the calmest conditions, the platform experienced erratic oscillations that the gyrostabilizer could not dampen out. Various duct configurations were tried, but those that showed the greatest increase in stability also produced the least amount of thrust.

While Hiller was just discovering the extent of the Model 1031-A-1's control problems, the Army placed an order for three upgraded models, for its own experimentation. However the Army insisted that the new platforms, designated VZ-1E, should include a third engine as a backup in case of a failure of either of the two main engines. This requirement necessitated construction of a larger platform, with 2.44 m (8 ft) diameter rotors. The extra weight of the additional engine and larger airframe further increased the control difficulties to the point that kinesthetic control was no longer practical. Hiller attempted to remedy the situation by lengthening the ducted fan for greater stability and developing a more conventional control system in which a seated pilot would maintain control with a stick linked to the control vanes that had originally been intended only for yaw. This latest development proved to have a faster forward flight speed than the Model 1031, but did not resolve the control or instability problems. However, the modified VZ-1E did lead to a new line of thinking.

The Hiller engineering team realized that, while they had demonstrated the impracticality of kinesthetically controlled flying platforms in forward flight, the ducted fan idea still held a great deal of promise for more sophisticated VTOL aircraft. Thus, the Office of Naval Research funded the development of a prototype coleopter, or ring-wing VTOL aircraft, consisting of a lengthened ducted fan, which was intended to act as a lifting fuselage when the aircraft pivoted from a vertical to horizontal attitude for high-speed forward flight. A mockup of the coleopter, designated the VXT-8, was constructed, but the design went no further. Control of the coleopter in forward flight would have been extremely difficult. Hiller's final attempt to exploit the merits of the ducted fan was a proposal for an Army "flying jeep" competition. The Hiller design, which was not accepted, consisted of four ducted fans powered by a gas turbine attached to a simple frame. Considering Hiller's experience with ducted fans on the Model 1031, the design may well have revolutionized battlefield transportation if a suitable control system had been developed. By this time, however, turbine helicopters such as Bell's new HU-1 Huey, were overcoming many of the hurdles faced by the piston-engine models, and the flying jeep was abandoned.

Hiller's experimentation with the Model 1031/VZ-1E proved to be of little practical use to the company, which went out of business in 1966. However, the company's efforts did validate the ducted fan, which began to see practical service in hovercraft in the 1960s, and has emerged more recently in several Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) prototypes. In spite of its ultimate failure, the flying platform program proved to be a public relations bonanza for Hiller. When photos of the Flying Platform appeared in the media, the public was immediately captivated, perhaps because the platform's lack of visible propulsion seemed to be inspired from the flying saucer frenzy then sweeping the nation. While the apparent successes of the flying platform were widely reported, its inherent aerodynamic flaws were not publicized. Thus, many enthusiasts, even decades later, felt that a viable mode of transport had been unjustly abandoned. As a result, ducted fan platforms have occasionally appeared in the backyards of amateur inventors, who are unaware of the Model 1031's potentially fatal problems. However, the Hiller Flying Platform's vivid demonstrations of the potential of ducted fan technology may yet result in the inspiration for other new approaches to vertical flight.

Rotor Diameter:2.13 m (7 ft) each

Platform Diameter:2.54 m (8 ft 4 in)

Height:2.13 m (7 ft)

Weight:Empty, 167.8 kg (370 lb)

Gross, 251.7 kg (555 lb)

Engine:2 Nelson H-59 two-cycle engines, 40 hp each

References and Further Reading:

Gill, Wilbur J. Report No. ARD-236: Summary Report - Airborne Personnel Platform. Palo Alto, CA.: Hiller Aircraft Corporation, 1959.

Spencer, Jay P. Vertical Challenge: The Hiller Aircraft Story. Seattle:

University of Washington Press, 1998.

How a Children's Toy Could Help Fight Malaria

Smithsonian Magazine

One of the most basic and necessary pieces of equipment in a medical labs is a centrifuge. Often bulky and expensive, this device (in the most simple terms) spins things. And spinning things like blood, can separate out its components, allowing doctors to diagnose disease like malaria. But the lack of electricity and resources in rural regions around the world means no centrifuge. Now, a simple new 20-cent gadget could change all that, and it's based on an unusual source of inspiration: the whirlygig.

"There are more than a billion people around the world who have no infrastructure, no roads, no electricity," says Manu Prakash, a physical biologist at Stanford and inventor of the new gadget. When he visited Uganda in 2013 he found that clinics either did not have centrifuges or didn't have the juice to power them. “One clinic used its broken centrifuge as a doorstop,” Prakash tells Devin Powell at Nature.

"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 a press release.

When he returned to Stanford, Parkash began brainstorming ideas with one of his post-docs, Saad Bhamla, examining at all sorts of spinning things, reports Madeline K. Sofia at NPR. They quickly began focusing on old-school, preindustrial toys like yo-yos and whirligigs.

“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 the press release. The button was rotating at 10,000 to 15,000 rpms.

The pair began prototyping small hand-powered centrifuges based on the whirligig principle. Their final model, the Paperfuge, spins at 125,000 rpm, the equivalent of a centrifuge costing $1,000 to $5,000, according to the press release.

The Paperfuge is made of a disk of paper coated in a polymer, reports Sofia. The disk is attached to two pieces of wood or PVC pipe via string. When the strings are pulled, the disc in the middle spins, acting as a centrifuge for a blood sample attached to the center of the disk. The team, describes their work in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

The Prakash and Bhamla recently returned from successful field trials of the Paperfuge in Madagascar where they used it to test for malaria. While the gadget only takes two minutes to separate blood, reports The Economist, it takes 15 minutes of whirligigging for malaria-diagnosing separations.

Once the blood is separated, however, it needs to be examined by a microscope. Luckily, several years ago Prakash also created the Foldscope, a $1 paper microscope with optical quality similar to conventional microscopes that will begin distribution in 2018.

Ladies'-Whirligig (Rakes Of Mallow); Star the Ring (Girl I Left Behind Me)

National Museum of American History
Ralph Page. side 1: Ladies'-Whrligig (Rakes of Mallow); side 2: Star the Ring (Girl I Left Behind Me) (Disc 5037). from the album, Square Dances - With Calls, Vol. 1 (Disc 630) 78 rpm

Man with Pit Saw

National Museum of American History

Moose-Joint Buzzer

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

North Wind Buzzer "Tosto Makan"

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

North Wind Buzzer (Towegan)

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

Spinning-Top, Horn

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.
This object is on loan to the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, from 2010 through 2022.

Spinning-Top, Wood (Kaip-Sa)

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

Sylvia (Possum Trot Doll)

Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Gentleman

National Museum of American History

Toy Whirligig

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

Toy Whirligig

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

Toy Whirligig, Gourd & String

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.
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