Is The Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver for Real?

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The Doctor and His Sonic Screwdriver. ©BBCThe Doctor and His Sonic Screwdriver. ©BBC

The Doctor and His Trusty Sonic Screwdriver. ©BBC

A team of research physicists at the University of Dundee in Scotland have created an ultrasound array that can effectively be used as a sonic screwdriver, right out of Doctor Who. The Dundee researchers were able to lift and spin a free-floating 10cm diameter rubber disk with an ultrasound beam.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a video of it in action:

Ok, so maybe this isn’t as portable as the good Doctor’s favorite tool of choice, but the implications could be staggering. According to Dr. Mike MacDonald, of the Institute for Medical Science and Technology (IMSAT) at Dundee, “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 theory, which had been proven separately, is used in topics from quantum communications to biophotonics, but had not previously been proved in a single experiment. It creates angular momentum in a vortex beam using a number of intertwined helices similar in shape to DNA. The team showed how they could generate vortex beams with many intertwined helices, using a 1000-element ultrasound transducer array as an acoustic hologram. These beams are powerful enough to levitate and spin the 90g disk.

But wait, there’s more! According to Dr. MacDonald, “… [W]e are already starting to push the boundaries of what ultrasound can do in terms of targeted drug delivery and targeted cellular surgery. Like Dr. Who’s own device, our sonic screwdriver is capable of much more than just spinning things around.”

And, according to the same news release, though, the theory being applied to sound here, is also valid for light. So, watch out: the Master’s laser screwdriver may not be far behind.

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