The ups and downs (and ups) of a powerful research tool: the history of analytical ultracentrifugation (AUC)

Reportedly coined by Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens in 1659, the term “centrifugal force” (from the Latin for a force created by “fleeing the center”) eventually gave us the “centrifuge” in the 1860s, which applied this force to the separation of cream from milk. 

Roughly 60 years after that came the development of the first “analytical ultracentrifuge”—a centrifuge capable of spinning at extremely high speeds, combined with an optical system for getting information on the composition of nearly any solution being spun.  

Despite the sophisticated technology underlying today’s analytical ultracentrifuge (AUC)—from titanium rotors to interference optical systems that can record scans in less than five seconds—the AUC technique itself has changed very little from that used nearly a century ago. 

And perhaps because it’s intrinsically related to the force of gravity, the history of AUC has been marked by ups and downs since its introduction in 1923. 

As the global leader in modern AUC technology, Beckman Coulter Life Sciences is pleased to present a brief history of those ups and downs … and ups: 


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