A lab technician-turned-scientific photographer, Maurice Mikkers, has revolutionized our understanding of fluid dynamics by developing a groundbreaking camera that allows us to observe the centrifuge in action. Through his mesmerizing videos, Mikkers has unveiled a level of detail that was previously unimaginable. This innovative technology has far-reaching implications for various areas of research, including physics, genetics, food science, and wastewater treatment.
A Mystery Unveiled
Before embarking on his scientific photography journey, Mikkers gained experience as a lab technician at the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, where he frequently used centrifuges. However, the inner workings of the centrifuge remained an enigmatic “black box” to him. Mikkers’ curiosity led him to delve deeper and seek a visual understanding of the separating process that occurs inside the machine.
To capture the elusive images, Mikkers dedicated months to refining his camera setup. Mounting a digital camera on a centrifuge spinning at a speed that generates forces 2,500 times stronger than Earth’s gravity posed significant technical challenges. The intense centrifugal forces not only affected the samples being filmed but also the recording equipment itself. Nevertheless, Mikkers persevered, determined to unveil the hidden world of centrifugal separation.
Centrifuges operate by rapidly spinning fluids, creating powerful centrifugal forces. This force varies across the fluid, with the layers farthest from the center experiencing the greatest force. Consequently, particles within the fluid behave differently based on their density, ultimately leading to the separation of components into distinct layers. The denser matter migrates towards the outermost point of the centrifuge, facilitating further analysis and research.
While centrifuges have long been employed in blood sample analysis and DNA extraction, Mikkers’ camera has revealed intriguing fluid dynamics that were previously invisible. For example, the camera captured captivating swirls in shower gel when subjected to 2,500 g-force. This groundbreaking technology has engendered interest within diverse fields, including culinary fluid dynamics and wastewater treatment.
Alvaro Martin, a fluid physicist from the University of Twente, was captivated by Mikkers’ videos, prompting him to discuss them in a presentation on culinary fluid dynamics. Martin was astounded by the abundance of motion captured in the footage, contrasting with the gentle separation typically associated with centrifugation. This revelation opens new horizons for researchers in genetics, physics, art, and even wastewater treatment.
Mikkers is currently collaborating with rheologist Lorenzo Botto from Delft University of Technology on a project called ‘Sludgecam.’ This project aims to explore the potential application of the centrifuge camera in recovering valuable resources, such as nutrients, minerals, and synthetic materials, from wastewater sludge. By observing the centrifuge in action, researchers can gain unprecedented insights and adapt wastewater treatment processes accordingly.
The development of the centrifuge camera marks a significant milestone in scientific research. The ability to observe the inner workings of a lab-scale centrifuge while it is spinning opens up new avenues for waste-water treatment, biotechnology, and food processing. This technology not only sheds light on the mysteries of fluid dynamics but also empowers researchers to make groundbreaking advancements in various fields. With Mikkers’ pioneering work, we eagerly await the revelations and discoveries yet to come.
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