Forsyth County

Local high school students help develop a low cost tool used in lifesaving research

FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Scientific equipment used in life saving research can cost thousands of dollars, often keeping it out of the hands of many scientist and students. But a group of Forsyth County High School students teamed up with a Georgia Tech researcher to make one critical device accessible to all.

“Being a high school, we don’t have the resources most colleges do,” explained student scientist Gaurav Byagathvalli.

As a student at Lambert High School in Forsyth County, Gaurav was part of a team that entered an international science competition to solve big global problems. Most teams are from universities. Lambert was one of a handful of high school teams competing.

The team developed a way to quickly detect the dangerous bacteria cholera in water. Traditionally, labs use a device called a centrifuge to test for it. Centrifuges are big, need electricity, and are very expensive.

“A lot of high schools can’t afford centrifuges,” Janet Standeven said. She is Gaurav’s high school science teacher.

Standeven explained that the cost of many centrifuges may be an entire high school science budget. So, she called Saad Bhamla. He runs the Frugal Science Lab at Georgia Tech. The lab develops low cost tools for science education and global health.

“When I became a researcher one of the things I wanted to do was level the playing field in hardware, so everyone gets an opportunity to participate in science,” Bhamla said.

Bhamla created a paper centrifuge based on a children’s toy called a whirligig. The device is disk shaped with a string running through the center. The user winds the long loop of string, causing the disk to spin.

With the help of a 3D printer the students, teacher and college professor made a plastic version. The “3D ‘fuge” goes 6,000 revolutions per minute and holds two milliliters of liquid. With access to a 3D printer, the device costs about a dollar to make.

[Click here to download plans to make your own 3D printed centrifuge]

“It can be taken into the field, and by having this low cost a lot of them can be printed essentially on demand anywhere across the world,” Gaurav said.

The device is already being used around the world. A researcher at UC Berkley used it in the Amazon to study spiders. Bhamla said he gets emails every week from students around the world making their own 3D 'fuges.

“This is a small way we are preparing these young students to take on these big challenges that we may leave them,” Bhamla said.

The Lambert students won a gold medal at the science competition and Gaurav will start his new role in the fall -- freshman at Georgia Tech.

“That experience of being able to try new things, being able to do these same experiments that colleges are able to do, gave me this passion to continue this into the future and explore new areas,” Gaurav said.