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Safe Centrifuge Operation

How to Centrifuge Safely

Spinning safely: keeping centrifuges operating as intended

Mike May, PhD

Mike May is a freelance writer and editor living in Texas.

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Scientists and technicians spin down a variety of sample types. As a result, a centrifuge turns up in workflows in a broad range of basic research and applied science. After following such steps for years, setting up and running a centrifuge becomes second nature, and the technology works so well that few people think about keeping the process safe. Take one look at centrifuging gone wrong, though, and safety comes to the top of the spin-down list.

“Over the past five to 10 years, centrifugation technology advancements have resulted in improved performance, safety, and ease of use, with many new safety features being introduced,” says Hugh H. Tansey, senior director, innovation and growth programs, laboratory equipment, Thermo Fisher Scientific. “To stay abreast of these developments and benefit from enhanced performance and safety features, users of old systems should consider retiring and replacing them with their modern counterparts.”

Options to explore

When shopping for a new centrifuge, experts suggest several features worth finding. “Most importantly, since most rotor failure incidents are caused by the improper attachment of the rotor to the centrifuge drive system, major advances have been noted in the method of rotor attachment,” says Tansey.

New materials also cut down the weight of the rotor. As an example, Tansey points out that carbon fiber can be used to eliminate “failure through stress corrosion cracking induced by the combination of cleaning chemicals or sample salt solutions and g-forces during operation.” New materials used in rotor design also bring advantages in lower weight, better ergonomics, and longer life.

Related Infographic: Centrifuge Safety

A safe centrifuge also prevents accidents caused by speeding. “The centrifuge should have a method to prevent the accessory—bucket or angle rotor—from going over its maximum rated speed,” says Matt Squire, mechanical engineer at NuAire. “For centrifuges that can accommodate multiple rotors, the centrifuge must distinguish between these rotors and limit speed accordingly.”

The most basic training in running a centrifuge involves balance, and a modern device helps with that. “The centrifuge should have a method of detecting an imbalance,” Squire says. “This will shut down the centrifuge if too much vibration is detected, usually due to improper loading.”

Technology and training

Ensuring safety from a centrifuge can also be improved from software outside the device. “Although many newer centrifuges have built-in mechanisms designed to reduce injury, user error and detection failure can still lead to accidents and instrument breakdown,” says Amer Meer, senior product manager, connectivity for Connected Lab at MilliporeSigma. “Cloud-based software can be used to detect early warning signs and alert the user before an accident occurs.”

One benefit of using third-party software comes from versatility. For example, Meer says, “The basic idea is to establish a central platform where the data from the device is communicating to the scientist.” Those scientists and technicians, though, still must know what they’re doing. When asked how a lab manager ensures that these safety features are working properly, Squire’s top reply is training. “It is important that the people using the centrifuge have some basic knowledge of how the unit works,” he says.

Another key to safety is cleaning. “Attention should be given to good care and cleaning of the unit in accordance with the user operation manual,” Tansey says. “This should include cleaning the rotor chamber to keep it free from debris or liquids.” Plus, moving parts—a door latch or swinging bucket, for example—should be checked and lubricated as needed.

So, the trio of device, training, and maintenance work together to keep centrifuging safe.

For additional resources on centrifuges, including useful articles and a list of manufacturers, visit