Sonic Screwdriver

Researchers at Dundee University have created a device that mimics the basic functionality of a sonic screwdriver from the classic British sci-fi TV show Doctor Who.

In testing, the device is able to lift and rotate a rubber disc floating in a cylinder of water using ultrasound waves. Scientists have long known that ultrasound could push an object, but the recent tests confirm that it can also control direction in a more precise manner.

On Doctor Who, the sonic screwdriver is capable of manipulating mechanical and digital machines, such as getting money from an ATM or opening a locked door. The device developed by researchers isn’t quite to that level of functionality. VentureBeat Executive Editor Dylan Tweney did, however, pose the following question to me: “So you’re saying, if the lock mechanism is a rubber disc floating in a cylinder of water, Doctor Who could actually unlock the door in real life?”

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

The researchers aren’t really concerned with picking locks, but they are studying how to use the real sonic screwdriver for medical application — specifically, for very precise surgery. BBC News points out that surgeons use ultrasound to treat a variety of conditions without having to cut open a patient. In theory, the real sonic screwdriver could be used to guide a drug capsule to the location of a tumor inside someone’s body, then activate it from within.

“[The sonic screwdriver research] is an area that has great potential for developing new surgical techniques, among other applications,” Dr Mike MacDonald of the Institute for Medical Science and Technology at Dundee told the BBC. “Like Doctor Who’s own device, our sonic screwdriver is capable of much more than just spinning things around.”

Image via the BBC