Centrifugation is a technique that helps to separate mixtures by applying centrifugal force. A centrifuge is a device, generally driven by an electric motor, that puts an object, e.g., a rotor, in a rotational movement around a fixed axis.
A centrifuge works by using the principle of sedimentation: Under the influence of gravitational force (g-force), substances separate according to their density. Different types of separation are known, including isopycnic, ultrafiltration, density gradient, phase separation, and pelleting.
Pelleting is the most common application for centrifuges. Here, particles are concentrated as a pellet at the bottom of the centrifuge tube and separated from the remaining solution, called supernatant. During phase separation, chemicals are converted from a matrix or an aqueous medium to a solvent (for additional chemical or molecular biological analysis). In ultrafiltration, macromolecules are purified, separated, and concentrated by using a membrane. Isopycnic centrifugation is carried out using a "self-generating" density gradient established through equilibrium sedimentation. This method concentrates the analysis matches with those of the surrounding solution. Protocols for centrifugation typically specify the relative centrifugal force (rcf) and the degree of acceleration in multiples of g (g-force). Working with the rotational speed, such as revolutions per minute (rpm), is rather imprecise.