Dr Who's sonic screwdriver 'invented' at Dundee University

It is hoped the Dundee device could improve ultrasound surgery

Scientists claim to have invented their own version of Doctor Who's famous sonic screwdriver.

The Dundee University researchers have created a machine which uses ultrasound to lift and rotate a rubber disc floating in a cylinder of water.

It is said to be the first time ultrasound waves have been used to turn objects rather than simply push them.

The study could help make surgery using ultrasound techniques more precise, the physicists said.

Surgeons use ultrasound to treat a range of conditions without having to cut open a patient.

The ability to steer ultrasound waves to the precise spot where they are needed could make those treatments even more effective.

The ultrasound waves could also be used to guide a drug capsule through the body and activate it, for instance right inside a tumour.

Start Quote

Like Doctor Who's own device, our sonic screwdriver is capable of much more than just spinning things around”

End Quote Dr Mike MacDonald University of Dundee

Ultrasound waves could already be made to push objects and scientists believed they could also turn them - but the Dundee University team claims to have now proved it.

They used energy from an ultrasound array to form a beam that can both carry momentum to push away an object in its path and, by using a beam shaped like a helix or vortex, cause the object to rotate.

Dr Mike MacDonald, of the Institute for Medical Science and Technology (IMSAT) at Dundee, 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.

David Tennant as Doctor Who holding sonic screwdriver Doctor Who's sonic screwdriver can perform medical scans and pick locks

"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.

"Like Doctor Who's own device, our sonic screwdriver is capable of much more than just spinning things around."

The results of the sonic screwdriver experiment will be published in the American Physical Society's journal Physical Review Letters.

The research also forms part of a UK-wide Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council project known as Sonotweezers, which aims to bring dexterity and flexibility to ultrasonic manipulation, allowing applications in a wide range of topics including regenerative medicine, tissue engineering, developmental biology and physics.

In the popular BBC TV series, Doctor Who uses his sonic screwdriver to perform medical scans, remotely control other devices and pick locks.

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Scotland stories

RSS

Features

  • Man with typewriterLove to Patrick

    The official whose over-familiar letters infuriated his boss


  • Man's hands putting ring on woman's fingerName changer

    Why do wives take a man's name after marriage?


  • Person scratching their arm10 things

    Scratching really does make things itch, and other nuggets


  • Corsican flagCorsican mafia

    Are Corsica's days of mafia and militants over?


  • Mobil canopies on the A6 at Red Hill, LeicestershireEnglish heritage

    Zebra crossings to bus stations: unusual listed buildings


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.