Univ. of Dundee researchers develop a real sonic screwdriver

This is just plain geeky cool. Sadly, not sure this will be in wide distribution by Christmas 2012 and the cost may be just a bit prohibitive, but it’s something you need to at least put on your list if you are a Doctor Who fan.

Seems as though a team of research physicists at the University of Dundee in Scotland have created an ultrasound array where they were able to lift and spin a free-floating 10cm diameter rubber disk with an ultrasound beam… a.k.a. a sonic screwdriver. In an ‘official press release‘ from the University, the Dundee researchers 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.

As Dr. Mike MacDonald of the Institute for Medical Science and Technology explains, “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.” Dr. MacDonald further explained, “….We 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.

Sounds simple enough, right?


Before you get tired-head, researchers further described their discovery by explaining that the ultrasound beam generated resembles the ‘double-helix’ structure of DNA but with many more twisted strands, or helices. This vortex beam generates a rotating, angular component of momentum that can exert torque on an object. In the recent publication they 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 made of ultrasonic absorber in water.

I want one now. Anyone else?

In: Odds & Sods