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Doctor Who’s Sonic Screwdriver becomes reality, can lift and spin objects using sound alone.

The team said the beam carries momentum that can push an object in its path and can cause the object to rotate when shaped like a helix or vortex.

Usually we report on how Star Trek inspires real world inventions.  This time, however, researchers at Dundee University, inspired by Doctor Who’s famous ‘Sonic Screwdriver’ have figured out how to make an ultrasound-powered machine which can lift, spin and manipulate objects using sound alone.  While this is more a proof of concept that ultrasound can be used in novel new ways, it’s a step closer to the Doctor’s multi-purpose device.  It looks more like a high tech coffee press than the familiar hand-held do-anything tool, but the team that developed it says that the beam it generates carries momentum that can push an object in its path and can cause the object to rotate when shaped like a helix or vortex.  The technology was originally designed for MRI-guided ultrasound surgery, and can lift and spin a 10cm rubber disk with an ultrasound beam.

Mike MacDonald, of the university’s Institute for Medical Science and Technology, said: ‘This experiment not only confirms a fundamental physics theory but also demonstrates a new level of control over ultrasound beams which can also be applied to non-invasive ultrasound surgery, targeted drug delivery and ultrasonic manipulation of cells.  ‘The ‘sonic screwdriver’ device is also part of the EU-funded Nanoporation project where we are already starting to push the boundaries of what ultrasound can do in terms of targeted drug delivery and targeted cellular surgery. ‘It is an area that has great potential for developing new surgical techniques, among other applications, something which Dundee is very much at the forefront of.’

Doctor Who uses his screwdriver to open locks and doors and control other devices, but the Dundee team believes its study could help make surgery using ultrasound techniques more precise and effective by giving doctors the ability to steer ultrasound waves to the precise spot where they are needed.  Ultrasound waves already allow surgeons to treat a range of conditions without having to cut a patient open.

Dr MacDonald added: ‘Like Doctor Who’s own device, our sonic screwdriver is capable of much more than just spinning things around.’

The results of the research are published in the American Physical Society’s journal Physical Review Letters.

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