Principles of Operation for Disc Centrifuges

Feb 16, 2021
migrating bands on Brookhaven's DCP centrifuge

A disc centrifuge separates particles according to size and density, making it an ideal method for high-resolution particle sizing. The Disc Centrifuge Photosedimentometer (DCP) uses visible light for the detection of the particles. The planning of a disc centrifuge experiment involves selecting an appropriate spin fluid and disc speed to achieve the desired level of separation in a specified runtime.

Principles of Operation: The Disc Centrifuge Photosedimentometer (BI-DCP)

Particles scatter and for some, absorb light. A beam of LED light is used, and the following relationships describe the basic principles for the DCP. This analysis relies on a simplified form of light scattering, namely turbidity. Whereas static and dynamic light scattering rely on quantification of scattered light to calculate particle size, turbidity only requires that you be able to measure the light lost due to scattering and/or absorption, essentially via a reduction in transmittance.

  • It =  I0 exp (-Qext * C * L)  where I0 = incident intensity and It  is transmitted intensity
  • Qext = Extinction efficiency = f(dp, np/nf, λ)    
  • c = Mass concentration
  • L = Path length (width of fluid segment in disc)
  • Light is either absorbed or scattered, the sum of which is called extinction.
  • Extinction is a strong function of particle size. Significant optical corrections are necessary for dp 5 μm
  • Sensitive, but less quantitative for high density materials such as metal oxides where Qext is not easy to calculate accurately.

The key equation for diameter of the particle is:

equations for disc centrifuge sedimentometry

Note that the relationship between time and particle size squared is inversely proportional.


disc centrifuge sedimentometry diagram illustration

t = time

ƞL = viscosity of the liquid

RD = radius of the detector

RI = radius to the meniscus

ρp = density of the particle

ρL = density of the liquid

The final particle size distribution obtained from the BI-DCP depends on hydrodynamics to the extent that this dictates the time required for a band of particles to pass the detector. The optical correction becomes more difficult when materials with complex refractive indices are considered, such as metal and metal oxide particles. These sorts of samples are better suited to X-Ray detection. Higher atomic mass nanomaterials tend to have higher densities, and thus sediment more rapidly. This is common with metal and metal oxide particles.


  • Weiner, Bruce B., “Let There Be Light: Characterizing Physical Properties of Colloids, Nanoparticles & Proteins Using Light Scattering”, Chapter VII: Sedimentation & Centrifugation. Amazon, May 2019.
  • Hodoroaba VD., Unger W., Shard A., “Characterization of Nanoparticles: Measurement Processes for Nanoparticles. Elsevier, Oct 2019

Have a question about disc centrifuges?

Our experts are standing by to help you find the right equipment for your testing needs.