The Sonic Screwdriver – Coming to a Hospital Near You

On Doctor Who, the Doctor’s most valuable tool is his brain, but when that’s not quite enough he turns to his trusty sonic screwdriver.  Calling it a screwdriver is really doing the handy little tool a disservice as it’s been used for a myriad of purposes no other tool bearing the word “screwdriver” could ever do.  In case you’re in need of a refresher on just how handy it is, here’s a video showcasing the top 11 sonic screwdriver scenes from the 2010 series.

Really exciting stuff, but completely in the realm of fiction, right?  Not exactly; at least, not any more.  A team of physicists at the University of Dundee in Scotland have come up with a way of manipulating energy from an ultrasound array to both push and rotate an object.

They’ve used a 1000-element ultrasound transducer array to create a beam with a helix structure similar to DNA, but with many more strands.  This “vortex beam” is an acoustic hologram that creates a rotating component of momentum which allows objects it acts upon to be turned axially.  The video below shows the device in action levitating and spinning a 90g disk of ultrasonic absorbing material in a water medium.

Visually, it may not be as exciting as all the things we’ve seen the Doctor do with his sonic screwdriver over the years, but in a practical sense this is an amazing breakthrough.  Some of the applications for this are non-invasive ultrasound surgery, targeted drug delivery and manipulation of cells.

There is one small downside, however.  This theory being applied to sound waves is also valid for light.  How is that a bad thing?  Remember the Master’s laser screwdriver?  If you hear about that one, we might need the help of the madman in the blue box.

University of Dundee press release.
BBC News Scotland article.


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