Vortex Mixer: Principle, Types, and Uses

Many laboratories have to mix different components thoroughly and constantly. Manual mixing of such components may not provide the desired result. Some laboratories prefer using various instruments that aid in the mixture, like glass rods, magnetic stirrers, homogenizers, and vortex mixers.

A vortex mixer or vortexer is laboratory equipment that creates a vortex for mixing two liquids in tubes of various sizes. The vortexer operates by an electrical current, and its speed is controllable. It is a small portable instrument perfect for mixing small volumes of liquid samples in the laboratory.  

Parts and Accessories of Vortex Mixer

Parts of a vortex mixer
Parts of a vortex mixer

The proper functioning of a vortex mixer requires different parts, which are as follows:

  1. Main Switch: The turning on the main switch provides the electrical current for operating the vortex mixer. So simply, it controls the power of the machines.
  2. Speed controller knob: It is a knob located in the front of the machine. Turning the knob helps to control the rotation speed of the vortex mixer. 
  3. Operation controller button: It is a button that helps provide either direct rotation or rotation while the vials touch the well/cup head. 
  4. Motor: It is present just below the cup head. It rotates in a circular motion and is the central part of the vortex mixer. It provides the vortex effect in the liquid for proper sample homogenization.
  5. Well/Cup head: The rubber cup head is placed above the motor that helps hold the tubes with the sample in place. Since glass test tubes are also used in vortex mixture, the cup head requires soft material, so it is made of rubber. The cup head is the replaceable part substituted by the extra accessories available.

Some extra accessories are available for freehand mixing single/multiple samples at a time and holding the samples after and before use. They are:   

Accessories for vortex mixer
Different accessories for vortexer
  1. The platform for tubes: It is the platform for holding different-sized tubes for simultaneous vortexing of multiple samples. The platform is specific to the companies that provide the vortexer. 
  2. Single tube holder: It is used to simultaneously freehand vortex a single tube. Here, the tube holder helps to keep the tube in place instead of the conventional method of using a hand. 
  3. Tube insert: The tube insert is used for holding the tubes before and after vortexing. 

Working Principle of Vortex Mixer

The principle of vortex mixer depends on the motor present in the instruments. The shaft of the motor attaches to the cup head. The electric current provides the power for the centrifugal rotation of the engine. The motor’s rotation leads to the shaft’s orbit, which rotates the cup head. The rotation creates a powerful vortex when the sample is placed in the cup head. The powerful vortex helps in the homogenous mixture of the samples. 

Operating the Vortex Mixer

All the operating buttons (main switch, speed control knob, and operation controller button) lie in the front part of the instrument. The connecting of the cable present on the back side of the device to the electric source supplies the electrical power to the vortex mixer. The main switch turns on the vortexer.   

There are two operating modes of vortexer. The first one is the movement of the motor without applying pressure to the cup head. Here the motor moves as soon as the main switch is turned on. The second mode is the movement of the motor when the tubes provide gentle pressure on the cup head. The operation controller button helps in changing the modes. In some vortexer, the main switch can change the mode like the Labnet VX-200 series has a power switch with three modes on, touch, and off. The touch button helps attain the second mode, and the on button is for the first mode.

The speed control knob controls the speed of rotation of the motor. Usually, the available speed range is 100-3200 rpm. The speed range changes depending on the company producing it; the Cole-Parmer vortex mixer has a speed range from 0-3400 rpm. 

Replacing the accessories of the vortexer
Source: Moxcare Labware

Steps for operating

  1. Attach the cable to the power supply.
  2. Then, secure the desired accessory at the cup head. 
  3. After that, select the desired mode of vortexing.
  4. Now, turn on the main switch.
  5. Select the desired speed by turning the speed controller knob.
  6. If the pressed-down method is used, press the holder correctly for vortexing. 
  7. Once vortexing finishes, turn the speed knob to the lowest.
  8. Switch off the main switch.

Safety precautions to follow

  1. Use hand and eye protection while using the instruments.
  2. Avoid using flammable substances.
  3. Use a sealed container for shaking hazardous substances.
  4. Make sure the cup head is securely attached before use.
  5. Timely repair and maintenance of the instruments is a must.

Types of Vortex Mixer

The vortex mixer has been classified into many types based on technology, speed variability, and size. Some of the types are explained below:

  1. Variable speed: The vortex mixer is available with a speed controller, and the speed range varies from 100-3200 rpm. It also has the facility of touch or continuous modes. With the use of accessories, vortexing of many tubes at the same time is possible.
    1. Analog vortex mixer: The speed is controlled by turning the knobs from right to left. The mixing can be continuous when accessories are used or touch/press down while the cup header is used.
    2. Digital vortexer: The speed is variable and changed using the touchpad. The LED screen displays the exact speed. And time (minutes/seconds). The two operation mode (continuous operating accessories and touch mode while using cup head) is available. The function of adding a timer and speed is also available. 
  2. Fixed Speed: The speed range is not available. The machine operates at high speed; only touch-down mode is applicable. The cup head accessory is only available with this type of vortexer.  
  3. Mini vortexer: These are useful in vortexing samples in small volumes (0.2-50ml). It is available in both digital and analog modes. Both operation mode is available based on the accessories used.   
  4. Pulsing vortex mixer: These have glass beads for cell disruption like the mechanical bead mill homogenizers. The pulsing action reduces heat production while mixing. The touch, as well as the continuous mode, are available in this type of vortex with both analog and digital technology.  
  5. Microplate Vortex Mixer: These are designed for mixing contents in a microplate. It is available in only one operating mode, which is a continuous mode. Both digital and analog types are available in this type of vortexer. 
Different types of vortex mixer
Different types of Vortexer

Uses of Vortex Mixer

The vortex mixer has various uses in different fields. The uses are as follows:

  1. Mixing chemicals: Vortexing helps in most laboratories’ homogenous mixing of chemicals. The mixing time is quicker than that of other methods of mixing.  
  2. DNA extraction: The vortexer is used for homogenous sample mixing with extraction buffer. This method also helps in cell disruption. 
  3. For tissue analysis and cell culture: The vortexer has been applicable in making suspension of cell or tissue samples during tissue analysis and cell culture.
  4. In the analysis of proteins and enzymes: Proper mixing of samples with reagents and buffer is a critical step in studying proteins and enzymes. So, a vortex mixer helps in homogenized mixing during analysis.

Limitation

Although a vortex mixer is applicable for a homogenized mixture of liquid samples, it has many limitations. These are:

  1. It is not applicable for mixing solid with a liquid or solid-solid substances.
  2. There is the risk of spillage if the tube is not held correctly.
  3. The touch method is the most efficient way of operating the vortexer, which can be tedious after continuous use. 

Difference Between Vortex Mixer and Centrifuge

Although vortex mixer and centrifuge both use centrifugal force. These have many differences, which are as follows:

  1. The vortex mixer is applicable for single and multiple samples with the use of different accessories. Centrifuge is applicable for mainly multiple samples with different volumes. 
  2. The vortex mixer is generally applicable for mixing liquids. Whereas centrifuge is more commonly applicable for separating different components in fluid.
  3. The size of the vortexer is small and fits on the benchtop. But the centrifuge is larger in comparison.
  4. The time taken by centrifuge for operation is longer than that of vortex mixer.
  5. The centrifugal force generated is smaller in the vortex mixer but larger in the centrifuge.
  6. The movement occurs inside the content of the tube while using a vortex mixer, whereas the tube remains in a fixed position, and the rotor moves.
  7. The vortexer do not have the option of controlling the temperature of the sample. While operating a centrifuge, usually the sample’s temperature can be controlled. 
  8. The rotation speed of the vortexer is available in the range 100-3200 rpm. Whereas the rotation speed of the centrifuge is available in the range 300-15000 rpm.  

References

Ashma Shrestha

Hello, I am Ashma Shrestha. I am currently pursuing my Master's Degree in Microbiology. Passionate about writing and blogging. Key interest in virology and molecular biology

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