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Safety in Centrifuges: Designed to Protect

In large part, centrifuge problems arise from user error rather than from instrument failure.

Mike May, PhD

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

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From rotor sensing to vibration-reduction, new platforms protect you

An online search for centrifuge accidents turns up some images that look like war scenes. In large part, centrifuge problems arise from user error rather than from instrument failure. “Typically, rotor incidents involve errors in connecting and tightening down the centrifuge rotors on the drive shafts, or creating an imbalance condition by improperly balancing rotors, or allowing old and corroded rotors to be used beyond their lifetimes,” says Hugh Tansey, global product director, centrifuges, at Thermo Fisher Scientific (Waltham, MA). “Users can also experience tube failure due to over-speed or overuse.” Many of today’s devices help users avoid these problems.

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To be safe, says Anthony Locatelli, product manager at NuAire (Plymouth, MN), today’s centrifuges provide several features, such as rotor recognition. “With this safety feature, the centrifuge knows which rotor is installed, and it will check that the rotor’s maximum speed is not exceeded by the program,” he explains.

The centrifuge can also monitor other aspects of the rotor during operation. For example, explains Tansey, “Integrated rotor imbalance sensors and systemshutdown software are modern means to quickly detect and reduce the problems of improper rotor balancing by shutting the system down before it reaches a critical imbalance condition.”

Key constraints

When spinning something at high speeds, vibrations become the enemy. “We walk into labs where people are still using centrifuges that are 20 or 25 years old, and they are loud and vibrate when they start,” Locatelli says. “They shake the entire bench, and that could certainly cause safety issues.”

New centrifuges fix that problem. NuAire, for example, adds shock-absorbing features. “There is very little or no vibration,” Locatelli says.

Related Article: Centrifuge Safety

Other important safety features can depend on the intended use. In some instances, for example, the samples being centrifuged really need to be kept away from the scientists. This arises in work like vaccine development, where dangerous organisms or components are used. “Safety is not just about the centrifuge,” says Randall Lockner, global strategic marketing manager for centrifugation at Beckman Coulter Life Sciences (Indianapolis, IN), “but also about the labware.” So Beckman Coulter developed Aerosolve canisters. “They’re clear from top to bottom so you can see through them,” Lockner explains. “When you take it out of the centrifuge bucket and carry it to the hood, you can see if there was a leak or if a tube broke.” And you can see this before opening it. Similarly, Thermo Fisher Scientific developed its ClickSeal biocontainment lids. “These offer one-handed sample protection,” Tansey says. “They offer simple operation for all laboratory users, eliminating multi-turn screw caps and complicated high-pressure clips.”

Shopping for safety

If a quarter-century-old centrifuge in your lab needs replacing, a couple of tips might simplify your shopping list. For one thing, make sure to buy one with the appropriate safety certifications, like UL/ CSA. “These indicate the centrifuge has been designed, tested, and manufactured to rigorous technical and safety standards,” Tansey explains. “Additionally, biocontainment lids should be certified by an independent body, such as Public Health England in Porton Down, UK.”

So when you go centrifuge shopping, make sure that the vendor can prove that the safety features do the job.

Key Factors to Consider when Choosing a Centrifuge

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